Mention the words ‘performance management’ and you get an immediate reaction, and it’s not usually a good one! Managing performance is tough to begin with – then tack on dealing with a pandemic that completely changes our environment and the way most of us work, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and paralyzed by the very thought of managing someone’s performance.
Yes, our working landscape has changed, in some cases dramatically, and it will continue to change and evolve until we land on a new normal. And you can be certain that this new normal will be as different and numerous as there are jobs and professions. However, the constant in all of this is that the work still needs to get done, and managing performance is a necessary part of the process.
A particular challenge for most of us this year is that the changes we all had to endure were thrust upon us. During these challenging times we’ve had to reinvent ourselves in order to adapt to the changes being made around us. This reinvention was necessary for survival on so many levels and didn’t come with a lot of guidance or instruction.
Where our work is concerned, we had to adjust, re-think, flex in the moment, and become creative about the way we do things. And all of this had to be done while managing our family, our households, and our finances. These can all be reasons why work performance may not have been up to par, or possibly even failed, but it’s important to get back on track.
In the scrambling that took place to reinvent our lives, communication suffered for many as each of us became consumed with figuring things out. If communication suffered, so did performance management. But hope is not lost! There are many things we can do to get back on track, to determine the best means of effectively communicating and the frequency in which to do it, in order to create a trusted and effective work relationship once again. The basic principles still apply, and we’ll discuss some of the most relevant.
Often when managers and staff think about managing performance, they think only of the year-end review process. In fact, the year-end process is really just the culmination of a year’s performance that then provides an overall measure of success in meeting one’s goals. True performance management is an on-going process of providing continuous feedback to, and receiving feedback from, your employees so there are no surprises when the end of year review process takes place.
While remote working was commonplace for some, it’s now the mainstay for much of the workforce. Some employees are good at it, and some aren’t. Communication can quickly breakdown if it isn’t constant and readily available. It’s crucial to establish consistent and frequent communication. This can be done by setting up weekly or bi-weekly meetings and making sure they happen. Often weekly meetings get pushed aside when something pressing comes up, and that only devalues the importance of having these meetings. It doesn’t matter whether you’re meeting in person, zooming, or speaking on the phone – the main thing is you connect – you make sure that these meetings take place.
Set an on-going agenda for your meeting – for instance you may want to start each meeting speaking about the accomplishments for the week, then talking about what is currently being worked on, and then what’s on the horizon. In each of these discussions you can celebrate successes, talk about the challenges or obstacles (and the possible solutions) and discuss failures and how best to address them. This may include discussions around areas of growth, development, or improvement. Having these meetings will enable you fully understand the work being done (or not getting done) and to offer the support or discipline needed to correct the situation. Managers should take notes so that when it is time to do the year-end review, you can look back at the meeting agendas, and your notes, and include all relevant information for a comprehensive performance review.
Something important to remember is that whenever meeting with someone you should practice ‘active listening’. This is the foundation for a good conversation no matter who you’re speaking with (but most importantly with your direct report) because it allows that person to feel heard and to know that they matter. Nothing feels better than to know that you matter!
Active listening requires you to be present, in the moment, giving your full and undivided attention to what is being said. With active listening you’re hearing the words, reflecting on them, asking clarifying questions, reframing what you’ve heard back to the person, and not making judgements or offering advice. You’re taking it all in from their point of view in order to fully understand, before you reply with your thoughts or suggestions.
Many times we may think we’re actively listening, but most of the time we’re formulating opinions as someone is speaking, we’re looking to offer our point of view, and we’re determining how we want to respond before they’ve even stopped talking. This in turn makes the conversation more about you than about them. Active listening encourages you to acknowledge what is being said and then move on. Acknowledgement allows a conversation to move forward because the person speaking feels heard. Once the person feels heard they can let the point go and you can move into problem solving mode. Now they’ll be open to hearing what you say because they feel that you heard them and are responding accordingly.
Providing effective feedback after actively listening to your staff member is key to a successful discussion. My favorite way to do this is using the SBI Model created by the ‘Center for Creative Leadership’. Simply put, you define the Standard/Situation (the when or where) you wish to address, then you describe the specific Behaviors you observed, and last you use “I” statements to communicate the Impact (the affect) their behavior had on you or others. Finally, discuss what they need to do to change this behavior in the future, or, if their behavior had a positive impact, explore how they can build on this. I’ve found this model to be effective when giving feedback in any situation. For example, when speaking to a direct report you might communicate something like – “A crucial part of your role is to begin work promptly at 9:00 in order to begin helping customers, but three times last week I saw you arrive at 9:15 which resulted in phones unanswered and customers’ needs not being addressed. This behavior must stop immediately. How will you ensure that you arrive on time going forward?”
This can also work in your personal life, for example “One of the chores you have is to take the garbage out every Monday and once again you forgot this week which meant that the trash can was overflowing by Wednesday and I had to clean it up. Why do you keep forgetting and what can you do to help yourself remember?”
Stating the facts and the effect of their behaviors makes it difficult to argue. You must make sure, however, that the facts you state are from your observations (otherwise it’s hearsay).
Gratitude based Leadership
Another way to further enhance your conversation is through gratitude based leadership. This requires the leader/manager to assume positive intent on the part of the employee. It shows a certain trust and acceptance – and gratitude for a concerted effort. If you can’t find big wins, look for the small ones. Show gratitude for their desire to succeed and even if they didn’t fully accomplish all that was expected, thank them for what they have done. Then offer encouragement for achieving even more while clearly articulating the objectives/goals. Gratitude is more than saying ‘thank you’, although that is extremely important. It’s truly meaning it. Gratitude builds trust and helps the employee feel they are valued, appreciated, and recognized for not only their accomplishments, but their efforts as well.
As I started out saying, performance management is tough, and in these challenging times it’s even more difficult. It’s time to draw that line in the sand, regroup, redefine or recreate the goals, attain agreement and acceptance of those goals set up the correct lines of constant and consistent communication, and continue with the performance management necessary for productive and trusted relationships.