Stop the Rot – Managing Poor Performance ~ Part 2

Managing Poor Performance, Think OakIn part 1 of this two-part post I covered the potential impacts of poor performance, the causes and your responsibilities as a manager. In part 2, I’ll be guiding you through a seven-step process to help you deal with a poor performer.

Tackling Poor Performance

Many businesses do have policies and procedures around performance management and I’m not suggesting you don’t follow them. However, I’ve found a more informal, coaching approach to improve performance works in the vast majority of cases. Only once this approach is exhausted would I move down a more formal approach and this is normally the exception rather than the rule.

1. Prepare

Before you engage in a meeting with your poor performer, ensure that you have a detailed understanding and examples of poor performance as well as the impact that this under performance has had on the team, your customers, the business, yourself and the individual. Also, think about examples of good performance and behaviour that the person has shown in the past.

By spending some time preparing for the meeting,  you will have had a chance to gather your thoughts, examine the evidence, think about the evolution of the relationship and mentally frame the meeting in broad and flexible terms.

2. Set up a meeting with context

You should set up a meeting with at least a couple of days notice. You should be very clear in explaining exactly why you are arranging the meeting, that you will be discussing their recent performance and that you would like to have a discussion around how you can work on an improvement plan going forward.

To help your employee prepare for the meeting, you could suggest s/he gives some thought to a few questions, for example:

• How successfully do the two of us work together?

• How good are our communications and overall relationship?

• Which aspects of your job do you find easiest?

• Which are you most comfortable with?

• And which do you find most difficult?

• To what extent do I help you perform?

• Are there things I do that make life more difficult for you?

• Overall what can we do to improve your performance, my performance, our joint performance and our relationship?

The Performance Meeting

3. Agreement with your employee on the symptoms of the problem

It’s really important that you and your employee agree that there is a performance problem and agree the specific examples of when performance has been poor, the impacts that this has had and the importance of getting back on track. Try not to get into the why’s and wherefores at this stage. We’ll come to that. Just get agreement that behaviours or deliverables were not at the desired standard required for your team and business.

4. Understanding the causes of underperformance

Together, you and your colleague need to arrive at a common understanding of what might be causing the weak performance. This step assumes the person will be willing to participate in a genuine discussion of his/her strengths and weaknesses. Very few people will see themselves as perfect and in no need of any improvement. However, some people do overestimate the quality of their work performance and are unaware of their weaknesses. A major reason for this is likely to be that their previous managers have been reluctant to confront the employee’s shortcomings. In the absence of past negative feedback an employee could be genuinely shocked by your feedback and tempted to reject it as biased and personal.

It might be useful at this stage to review the answers to the preparation questions you gave them in step 2 to tease out some possible explanations. Ensure that you also point areas of performance or behaviours that are good, or have been in the past and spend some time on these also.

This stage of the process can be emotive. Keep calm and spend time working through the detail if necessary. Don’t forget that you already have agreement that there was poor performance. If you can’t agree on the why at this stage, you may need to move on to offering some suggestions on a way forward.

5. Creating and agreeing an Improvement Plan

Find out what motivates the individual: People are motivated by very different things.  Find out what’s important to the individual and shape and ‘sell’ the development plan accordingly.

Fit development action plans to learning style: Different people learn in different ways and this should be considered when planning development.  Understand which is the best learning strategy for that individual and shape the plan accordingly.

Focus on development priorities: Don’t overload people with too many things to focus on.

Use a range of development techniques: Development doesn’t solely result from attending training courses.  The success of development efforts will depend upon picking the right blend of development activity for the individual.  Good development plans draw on a combination of learning, practice and reinforcement.

Ensure that the plan has SMART Goals and by SMART, I mean:

S – specific, significant, stretching

M – measurable, meaningful, motivational

A – attainable, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented

R – realistic, relevant, reasonable, rewarding, results-oriented

T – time-based, timely, tangible, trackable

Ensure that the individual owns their plan: Getting them to come up with ideas and to actually write the development plan themselves will ensure that they buy-in to the plan and feel that it is their own.

Make sure the plan is documented – either fully during the meeting or an agreed skeleton is produced during the meeting and an agreement that plan will be delivered back the following day.

6. Create Confidence and Commitment

A good manager wants their people to succeed. This stage is all about building confidence in the person and inspiring them to improve, to develop themselves and to take the initiative.  People with high levels of self-belief set themselves more demanding goals, show greater effort and persistence in trying to achieve, and cope better with stress and difficulties.

Put a lot of energy into encouraging the individual to develop themselves and improve. Spend some time making the individual believe they can turn their performance around. Offer structured support as part of the improvement plan, but tell them it’s their responsibility to deliver against it.

7. Follow up

You must follow up on the agreements made. You and individual will have agreed to make certain changes, perform certain actions and/or reach certain performance targets by a given date. The onus is on both of you to ensure maximum high quality communication occurs during the period of the agreement. Don’t wait until the end of the process to discuss progress. Ideally the agreed objectives will be specific enough and the communication process during the contract period effective enough that both parties will agree on the assessment of the outcomes.

By implementing timely follow-ups and encouragement throughout the process, you should start to see demonstrable improvement.

Should performance not improve during the process then you must then set the expectation of the consequences which would be a more formal process. Although this process was not part of your company’s formal process, the documentation produced and meeting notes would be able to used as evidence as part of most formal procedures.

You won’t always succeed in turning around poor performance, but by following these steps you will have given your poor performer every opportunity to turn performance around.

I hope you found this post useful. As always, I’ love to hear your thoughts and feedback.

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Focus on Focus

FocusBill Gates achieved monumental success with Microsoft, and attributes “focus” as the key to his success. He stated “maintaining focus is a key to success. You should understand your circle of competence and spend your time and energy there…I’ve learned that only through focus can you do world-class things, no matter how capable you are.”

There are many reasons why a person loses focus while pursuing their goals. The constant distractions in today’s world mean that maintaining focus can be very difficult. Distraction of work, home, friends, socialising, events and everything else constantly compete for our attention and dedicated time. It takes time to stay focused on achieving our goals and it’s so easy to fail in our attempt to maintain enough momentum, desire, energy and persistence needed to achieve our goals. As a result we often give up and think our goal is unachievable.

Another reason why we might lose focus in pursuing our goals is that we may talk ourselves out of pursuing our dreams. When we first begin pursuing our goals, we may be motivated by the fact that we are improving our lives and achieving our wishes and dreams. Shortly after starting the process of taking action towards achieving our goals, we can often begin to question the plausibility of achieving what we want. As soon as we start questioning our ability, we start to lose focus.

Create SMART Objectives

Specific – Objectives should specify what they want to achieve clearly.

You may want to achieve an increase in revenue of 5%  in the next 12 months.

Measurable – You should be able to measure whether you are meeting the objectives or not.

A 5% increase over 12 months means that each month revenue targets can be measured against a specific goal.

Achievable – Are the objectives you set, achievable and attainable?

Is the 5% objective for the 12 months achievable? Does the you have the resources, man power and finances to achieve it?

Realistic – Can you realistically achieve the objectives with the resources you have?

Is the 5% objective over a 12 month period realistic or does the company need longer? Does the company have the skills and resources to achieve this over the time period set.

Time – When do you want to achieve the set objectives?

In our example the company have set themselves a period of 12 months to achieve the 5% revenue target.

Build your Plan. Your plan becomes your road map and helps you determine the best course to follow. Build your plan with enough detail to ensure that your activities are aligned clearly to your SMART objectives and can be tracked.

Minimise Distractions. Get rid of as much temptation as possible that deviates from your focus on your goal. Use every method you can think of to remove distractions from your situation and it will certainly help your focus. Ensure that you don’t take on further work unless you are clear that it won’t impact your objectives.

Measure Your Progress. You can’t control your progress unless you can measure it. Create a system and timetable to measure your progress against your plan. Record your progress, daily if necessary. This can tell us if we are on track or if we need to make adjustments to either our plan or activities. Be honest with yourself. Moving dates and activities out and recalibrating to ‘Green’ is not the way to hit targets.

Prioritise your Goal. Focus on a few goals at one time. Try not to overburden yourself as it will limit your chance of achieving your goal and demotivate you. Concentrate on the important ones first, achieve them and then you can look at addressing the other goals.

Work your Goals into your Daily Plan. Do something towards achieving your goals every day. The best way to achieve your goals and maintain your focus is to do something that will make it happen each and every day. Even if it’s only 15 minutes each day, it is better than not doing any goal related activity at all. Give your goal daily attention and you’ll remain more focused and at a better chance of achieving your ambitions.

Celebrate your Milestones. Mark your successes and acknowledge your progress towards your desired goal. Set milestones and as you achieve them reward yourself and / or your team. This will motivate you and make you see your milestone in a very positive way.

Sustain your Energy and Motivation

The importance of maintaining your energy and motivation today cannot be overstated. We have seen the impact that the lack of consumer confidence is having on our economy. When people feel uncertain about the future they stop spending money and the result further weakens the economy. The same is true of our goals. When we are not feeling confidant and positive about our prospects we stop spending energy on our goals, which results in set-backs, which further reduce our confidence. The result is a downward spiral similar to what we are seeing in the economy. There is an important difference though, while we cannot control the economy, we can control how we spend our energy.

Look out for a future post on how to manage your personal energy!

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