Shona Garner asked:
(c) 2008 Shona Garner
In this article the author reveals the reasons why the first action you should take when you are facing an underperformance issue is to examine your own approach to performance management. Learn the 5 mistakes every manager should avoid if they want to turn round a disengaged individual or team.
You have someone in the team who’s underperforming. You notice; other team members are noticing, and it’s already causing underlying tensions and friction. Left untackled, this problem can take up masses of your time and energy, leaving you frustrated and struggling to juggle all the other important aspects of your role.
Before you wade in and tackle the individual, just take a moment to see if you fall into any of the following traps which can either help create a poor attitude, or exacerbate an existing one.
Trap one: Turning a blind eye You’re picking up the signs that all is not well, but you hope the problem will go away. You decide to “leave well alone” and feel uncomfortable and reluctant to spend time dealing with this.
Result? Performance problems tend to build up. There’s a strong possibility others in the team will have noticed, which might affect morale or your own credibility as a manager. Bottom line – when you take your head out of the sand, the problem will still be there – but probably bigger!
Trap two: Shifting the problem! Have you ever been guilty of seeing if you can pass the problem on to someone else? Put them on a “special project” or transfer to another team?
Result? Whilst this can resolve the situation temporarily, you’re storing up a whole host of problems for later on! The team you’ve transferred the individual to may not thank you! And what sort of hidden message are you sending the rest of your team if they feel someone is being given special treatment despite underperforming, or displaying a poor attitude? Most importantly, the individual will blithely continue unchanged, and unaware there is even an issue!
Trap three: Playing Mr. Nice Guy You pride yourself on being a real “people person”, offering support and development to staff. Conflict makes you feel a little uneasy and uncomfortable.
Result: Whilst a key role of any manager is to support, encourage and develop his team, sometimes this just isn’t enough, and more may be needed. Adults can sometimes be a little like children! If you don’t set clear expectations and boundaries and stick to them, there will always be some who will use this to manipulate or take advantage.
Trap four: Delegating the problem Are you tempted to hand this over to HR or someone higher up? Sometimes this may be necessary – but almost always as a last resort, when other tactics have failed. And handing it to a colleague who you feel might be sympathetic or who is a good friend, isn’t a good idea either.
Result: You lose your credibility as a manager, and this situation will almost certainly arise again. Are you always going to delegate?
Trap five: Taking the part of judge and jury. We all do it – making snap judgements about people, or jumping to conclusions. If you’ve already mentally labelled someone as a “good” or “bad” performer, this will colour your ability to take an objective view of the situation.
Result: The biggest problem with this trap is it gets personal. Label someone “lazy”, or “poor performer” for example, and their barriers will go up. Any hope of constructive discussion is blocked.
Quick tip solutions: – Touch base with staff more regularly so you pick up early warning signs. – Nip things in the bud! The moment you notice performance slipping – take the bull by the horns, express your concern as specifically as you can (vague comments are totally unhelpful!), and once you’ve said what behaviour or attitudes are concerning you – shut up and listen! The more you show you are willing to listen and understand, the easier it will be to work towards a solution which leaves everyone feeling positive. – Don’t make it personal! Focus on the behaviour which is causing the issue. Be able to explain it in neutral, factual language. Explain the impact this undesirable behaviour has. – Ask the individual if they could suggest how objectives could be met. – You don’t have to ditch your Mr Nice Guy approach entirely – just combine it with a challenging development plan, and clear expectations, which will facilitate change and improvement! – Develop great coaching skills. – Come up with an action plan and clear idea of your desired outcome and timeline for seeing improvement. – Seek advice.
Taking time out to understand our own reactions and ways of managing underperformance can be the first step in sorting out the problem, and is certainly time well spent.