In Part 1 of this blog, I discussed the root causes of underperformance. Now we will talk about how to address them. To engage in successful performance discussions, leaders must have a positive framework with which to engage an employee.
When performance discussions are seen as win/lose fights between two opposing points of view, they are more likely to result in outcomes in which all parties lose.
However, when leaders begin with the assumption of positive intent and the belief that most people want to do their best, approaching the discussion takes on a much different outlook. With that in mind, we can enter into our five-step framework for performance discussions.
- Bring data: Use the “rule of three.” If a behavior occurs once, it is simply an incident. If the same behavior occurs twice, it could be a coincidence. The third occurrence of the same behavior demonstrates a clear pattern. The manager must recognize and document such a pattern of employee behavior. Supporting data is a prerequisite to any performance discussion. There may be situations that are so critical that a single occurrence merits taking action.
- Visualize a positive outcome: Once the root causes of underperformance are understood, leaders must consider what the best outcome of a performance discussion would be. Although interaction during the meeting may change the outcome, by visualizing and mentally rehearsing what a good outcome would look like, leaders are able to shape the meeting in a more positive direction.
- Create a problem-solving environment: When leaders enter into performance discussions with the stated intent of trying to solve a problem rather than discipline or shame an employee, everyone’s anxiety level decreases significantly, increasing the possibility of finding solutions. Shifting the discussion to one in which the leader has a sincere interest in the growth and development of the employee gives the employee a second chance to succeed. Who among us does not occasionally need a do-over!
- Developing a plan: Crucial to helping an employee return to or attain an acceptable level of performance is the creation of a clear improvement plan. Successful plans have tangible, measurable targets and realistic time frames.
- Following up: Our experience indicates that even good leaders fail to follow up and have regular updates with their employees following performance discussions. Very little benefit is yielded when no follow-up plan is created and implemented to measure improvement. At the end of any performance discussion, the leader and employee must place periodic meetings on the calendar to provide updates on the improvement plan and ensure that the meetings are conducted as scheduled.
Even when a leader has followed the above process, performance issues may persist. It is imperative that the leader take stronger actions to remedy such situations. Leaders can do so knowing that they have made suitable efforts to solve problems in a constructive manner.
THE TAKEAWAY: Approaching performance discussions as problem-solving sessions with measurable goals and follow-up can make the difference for low-performing employees.
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