Get a group of managers or supervisors together and, inevitably, the conversation will land on a topic that is a common source of stress and frustration for many leaders. In fact, they often share their horror stories in an effort to empathize, comfort, and even compete with one another. While many dislike it, they don’t always know how to correct it. The topic? Bad Performance. Whether you have a “bad apple” or a good employee that falls short in a specific performance area, knowing how to effectively deal with this situation is crucial for every strong leader. So how do you unlock high performance? Great question.
- Don’t ignore bad performance. It is contagious and a detriment to the team and the organization. When we do not address poor performance … it becomes the new “standard.”
- Provide frequent feedback. Make no mistake. The purpose of providing feedback is performance improvement. Unfortunately, many managers do not know how to give effective feedback so they rarely do it and, when they do, its most likely negative feedback. If you must give someone feedback about poor performance, focus on “positive feed forward.” Positive feed forward emphasizes what to keep doing or start doing in the future. While successful people tend to resist negative feedback about the past, they almost always respond well to positive suggestions for the future. By focusing on the future, leaders can help their team members be “right” tomorrow, as opposed to proving they were “wrong” yesterday. In addition to feedback for the purpose of improved performance, when you see someone doing something remarkable, recognize it. Be specific and value their contribution. That will go a long way to reinforce positive behaviors you want them to duplicate again and again.
- Help them leverage a talent to overcome the challenge. Not everyone achieves success the same way. A strengths-based approach to improving performance affirms what’s right about an individual and helps them think strategically about “intent and impact.” Simply look for a strength that has a direct connection to their performance challenge. What does success look like and how can they leverage that strength to create a plan?
- Rearrange team responsibilities. If possible, assess the talents and strengths of the entire team. What could be one person’s “low” could be another person’s “love.” By simply aligning responsibilities to the talents and strengths of each individual, you are intentionally setting up each individual to bring their best to work every day. When your team has a chance to do what they love to do and do best every day, everyone wins!
- Coach them to success. One of the easiest ways to start a feedback session is by asking questions. It helps you (the leader) get a read on what the team member is thinking. When you insist on doing it your way there is no thinking going on … and there is no buy-in. Questions such as “How do you think you are doing?” “What needs to happen to improve your performance in this area?” “What does success look like?” “What is most important in this situation?” “What can I do to support you?” It’s also important to ask the tough questions. I am a huge proponent of asking questions to promote accountability. Questions such as, “How do you want me to handle it if you don’t complete this task on time?” “What should I do if you miss the deadline again?” Great leaders know how to ask great questions that results in team members that know how to think for themselves.
- Hold them accountable. Accountability simply means being responsible for some action. It is not meant to brow beat or make people feel bad. In fact it is the complete opposite. The truth is most people want to do a good job. Holding them accountable helps them to perform better. When you ask the tough questions about consequences to poor performance in the future, you are setting the stage for accountability
You do not drift to high performance. When you consistently confront poor performance, provide frequent feedback, ask powerful questions, and hold people accountable, it will become what is expected.