Managing Performance through Training and Development

Managing Performance through Training and Development

Managing Performance through Training and Development

This is one of my favourite book titles. It speaks to me about the employer’s responsibilities to their employees. One of my few philosophies about human resource management is that as managers and representatives of the employer, we “owe” four things to our employees:

1. Clear direction: this includes a strong, thorough orientation to the organization and the way we “do” things around here, including who or what counts. It also includes a job description and an employee handbook/HR policy manual. It includes communication up and down the organization so that employees can ask questions and get clarification and offer suggestions for improvement. It also includes the notion that just because we/the employer believes we have communicated about a particular issue, we are open to the possibility that the employee did not get the intended message. There must be opportunities to communicate the message again, with a check in to ensure the intended message was received.

2. Skills and tools required for success: this includes just-in-time training with an opportunity to practice. It includes training on specific technical skills as well as training on the behaviours needed for success in the job. It includes tools that amplify their skills so that they are both efficient and effective.

3. A safe work environment – both physically and emotionally safe: this does not mean that the employee works in a risk free environment, but rather the work environment is honest and supportive about what the risks are. The risks are mitigated wherever possible. Safety in the workplace is a shared responsibility and the employee knows exactly what this means.

4. Feedback that is timely and specific: informal feedback when you catch an employee doing good work or when you have an opportunity to adjust their “course” or direction down a pathway. It also includes formal feedback when a more strategic perspective is taken to review the employee’s performance. Informal feedback is specific and timely. Formal feedback must not include any surprises! Rather it must be a summary of the informal feedback, again with a more strategic perspective.

When I think of performance management, I think of a poppy seed stuck in the gum of my front tooth, visible to all. I did not knowingly put it there. Given my druthers, I do not want it there. Unless someone points it out to me, holds up the mirror for me, it will be there until I recognize/see it. Please do me a favour and presume that I will welcome your feedback. I may be embarrassed or uncomfortable with your feedback, but I do want to know. I may need to be reminded that, when I eat poppy seed dressing, I need to check my teeth before I continue with my day. Presume each and every employee feels the same about the feedback you offer them. It is a gift to offer feedback.

Step One of Performance Management

Feedback to the employee has to based on the notion that the employee received the clear direction from the organization (their supervisor) to begin with, but you should never presume this is so. When giving feedback, whether it is positive or corrective, it is usually best to describe the desired behaviour – this is what we want or need. This is so easy to do when you have a good relationship with your employee, when both you and the employee have a lot of trust and respect for each other. Having a conversation that is not all positive, means you are more likely to communicate well with each other when both of you are feeling safe.

Once you have described the desired behaviours, then, describe the behaviour you are seeing in the employee by merely holding up the mirror for them, without judgement, keeping it safe, describing exactly what you are seeing. When the comparison is positive, help the employee see what is going well. Congratulate them, and celebrate this.

When there is a gap between what is required for success and what they are delivering, help them clearly understand that, again, without judgement. Ask them for their side of the story and listen carefully. You may not like what you hear, especially if you have let them down by not giving them clear direction. They may not have what is required for success: a safe work environment, clear direction, tools and/or training or feedback. This may clearly be their fault or it may be the organization’s fault.

As a supervisor it is your responsibility to give them what they need for success. It starts with holding up the mirror for them, in a kind, respectful way. It is as if you think they know that they should be going “north” and here they are going “north, north west”, thinking they are going in the right direction. All we need to do is remind them, or tell them for the first time, “You need to be going north.” Remind them that it is their responsibility to close that gap, gently, with kindness.

Step Two of Performance Management

Offer to help them, without offering to lower your standards or do it for them. You may need to ensure they get the training, tool or clear direction they need. There are two instances when you are likely to lower your standards. One is to give them time to get up to speed after receiving the tools, training or clear direction. The other is when they have formally asked for an accommodation because of a physical or mental disability – and that’s another topic of conversation.

Step Three of Performance Management

We all know co-workers who, for a variety of reasons, are just not being successful in their job, and they seem to not care that they are not doing what is required of them. When you encounter an employee with this attitude, start with holding the mirror up, describing the desired behaviours/outcomes and then describing what you are seeing. Again, when there is a gap between what is required for success and what they are delivering, help them clearly understand that, again, without judgement, gently, with their safety in mind. Ask for their feedback to your comments. Be quiet; don’t rush in to end the uncomfortable silence. Don’t solve the problem for them. Don’t offer advice. Remind them that it is their responsibility to close the gap. Offer to help, but only within the limits of your official authority. Let them tell you what they need from you. Agree or disagree to provide that help. Clarify and repeat the action plan moving forward – who will do what, by when. Set a date for getting together to review their progress – usually within two weeks. Book it in your calendar. Make notes of your discussion.

Step Four of Performance Management

If, when you see them again, be it the next day or in two weeks time, they have corrected their behaviours, celebrate with them! Agree to meet again in a week or two weeks to check in with them.

If, when you see them again, be it the next day or in two weeks time, they have not corrected their behaviours, make the time to chat with them, even if you’d rather ignore it! Again, describe what is required for success. Describe the behaviours you are seeing, the results they are producing, or not. This time include the impact of their behaviours (or not) on their co-workers, their clients, the organization and/or its reputation and livelihood. Describe them, without blame. Tell them what you are seeing. This means you are turning the heat up another degree. You are trying to get their attention. You want them to change their behaviours, preferably now. Ask for their feedback. Remind them it is their responsibility to change their behaviour – no excuses. Offer your help – and so on. All of these conversations are conducted with respect and dignity, ensuring both you and the employee are feeling safe with each other.

Step Five of Performance Management

If, when you see them again, you are still not seeing the change in behaviour, repeat as above and put the gist of the conversation in writing, in a letter for them and for their personnel file. Again, you are trying to get their attention. Seeing it in writing may do the trick.

At this stage of the game you must also inform them, but not threaten, that, not changing their behaviours as they have been asked, is jeopardizing their employment. This is another message that is the truth and is being said with the hopes that you will get their attention and they will change their behaviour now. Again, you are turning up the heat, with the hopes that they will feel enough discomfort that they will want to change their behaviour.

Step Six, Seven… of Performance Management

The remaining steps are just a repeat of step five, with each step including additional activities that are meant to discipline the employee with the hopes that they will get the message and change their behaviour. The activities include suspension, with or without pay, demotion, and termination. Should the performance management end up in a court of law, the court will want to see that you gave the employee every opportunity to change their behaviour, and enough time to demonstrate to you that they were changing their behaviour. The norm for performance managing an employee to termination is generally a year. In private companies – in my opinion – the employee is often terminated sooner than that with a bag of money in their hand to ensure they don’t lawyer up.

Managing performance is not just between you and the employee. When one employee’s performance is below the standard, the other employees – and your clients – are impacted in a variety of ways. It is demotivating for most of us to see a poor performer “get away” with it. And as much as we’d like to share how we are managing the other employee’s performance, we cannot. Managing an employee’s performance is our business and that employee’s business, but not everyone’s business.

Poor performance does indeed impact all employees. When an employee is terminated for poor performance, everyone is impacted, even those who believe the action is long overdue. It strikes terror in the hearts of the surviving employees; they wonder if they will be next. Terminating an employee should never be taken lightly. It is always an opportunity to reflect on what needs to be done differently so that this never happens again. It forces us to think about what changes are required to the recruitment and selection process, the orientation process, the performance review process, the training and development process, the corporate culture, the organizational structure. Lots of food for thought.

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