Dealing with poor performance is a bit like picking up acorns
Most people who know me, know I love my garden. I can happily while away hours pottering in the garden, and my idea of a good workout is a good bit of digging or lopping vegetation (beats the gym any day!).
Our garden is surrounded by mature oak trees, which means at this time of year we get lots of acorns, and I mean LOTS!
And, as we know, from tiny acorns mighty oak trees grow…
Following my accident last summer my gardening activities were somewhat curtailed. Which meant none of the acorns got picked up last year. So, lo and behold, a mini oak forest is popping up all over the garden! And having spent most of Saturday pulling them up, I can report oak saplings put down strong roots very quickly! Of course, had I managed to deal with these last year they would have been a darn sight easier to pull up!
It’s the same in business; if we don’t deal with problems early on, they can escalate into something much more challenging; like pulling up oak saplings rather than picking up the acorns.
Two particular types of problems come to mind, both of which can have an impact on the team and your customers: team members’ poor performance and unhappy customers. I’ve written many times before on dealing with unhappy customers, so my focus today is on picking up on dealing with poor performance.
I often find junior or inexperienced managers in particular tend to avoid dealing with poor performance. One reason is for fear of repercussions.
So here are 10 principles you can share with them to give them the support and guidelines to nip any performance problems in the bud (or eliminate them altogether!)
- Set expectations, so everyone in the team knows what’s expected of them. The clearer these are (ideally expressed in behavioural terms) and the less they are open to misinterpretation, the easier it is for everyone involved to monitor poor performance.
- Ensure people understand why things are done the way they are; if people fail to appreciate the importance of what they’re expected to do it’s very easy to lose any buy-in or commitment.
- Addressing an issue straight away might be relevant for everyone in the team. However, beware; giving everyone a lecture in a group meeting makes the ‘non offenders’ irritated that they are all being ‘accused’, whilst those to whom you are aiming your comments either just laugh it off, or it goes by without them realising you are referring to them.
- Conduct regular 1:1’s with team members where you review good performance, discuss shortfalls, and set targets for the coming period. This is an opportunity to pick up on any shortfalls before they become an issue, and identify the cause.
- When feeding back on performance (whether good performance or where improvements are needed), use the AID model. Stick to facts, not your interpretation of the facts.
- Recognise not all shortfalls are down to the individual; maybe it’s a training need, it could be through lack of resources, perhaps the system doesn’t allow it to happen, or maybe simply that there just aren’t enough hours in the day. Find out the cause; if you don’t know this, how can you correct it?
- Use the ‘3E’ structure – Establish the gap – Examine the reasons for the gap – Eliminate the gap
- Be prepared for the excuses – “well Nancy does it all the time and gets away with it”, or “I don’t see why that’s a problem”, or “No one’s ever told me that I had to do that”. These last two responses suggest that some more explanation or training is needed, and you may need to draw a line in the sand and set out your expectations for the future.
- Focus on the end result. Irrespective of the issue – whether it’s someone being late, not greeting a customer in the way you’d expect, breaking health and safety rules, failure to carry out part of their job, arguing with another member of staff, or doing something in a haphazard way with a poor result – Your goal is to resolve the issue and improve performance in future.
- Recognise that failing to take any action about poor performance sends the message to everyone else that it’s OK to break the ‘rules’. We sometimes misguidedly believe that it’s a one off or the problem will go away; but before you know it the problem has escalated – either the person in question continues to disregard the standard, or it becomes custom and practice for everyone to follow suit.
Of course, every business should have its own disciplinary process, and I am not suggesting by-passing that. But if you nip the issue in the bud hopefully you’ll never need to get as far as the disciplinary process.
If you only do one thing – Share this list with your junior managers and supervisors and give them the support they need to nip poor performance problems in the bud.
p.s If you need some more help with developing your junior managers let’s have a chat to see how I can help.