Have you noticed how line managers tend to hate managing performance yet they LOVE solving problems?
Of course, dealing with under-performance is nothing more than a problem-solving exercise, though it needs more tact and patience than working out why a machine or process failed.
I remember when my son was young, he was difficult. Nothing unusual about that – show me a 5 year old boy and I’ll show you a boy who is sometimes challenging! But, there was just something about his behaviour that made us feel that it wasn’t simple naughtiness. To cut a long story short, after many months of investigating, we discovered that he was gluten-intolerant. Too much wheat caused him to be in pain, and so he lashed out. Thankfully he’s outgrown it now, but the fact is once we had discovered the cause, we could take appropriate action and things improved.
Naturally he still had his moments, but overall he was a much more pleasant (and happier) boy. We had solved the underlying problem.
And that’s often the difficulty with performance problems at work. Most people don’t INTEND to be difficult or perform badly, but there is something making them do that. Unfortunately, most managers choose to ignore it, or hope it will get better by itself until things get so bad that they want to get rid of the troublesome employee. Then we are into a disciplinary situation, HR have to get involved (and have to start the process from scratch because nothing has been documented) and the whole situation is more difficult for everyone than it needs to be.
If only line managers saw under-performance as a problem to be solved. If only they could separate the behaviour from the person and work WITH the person to find the reason for poor performance and then create a plan to put things right together. Wouldn’t that be better?
Line managers tend to shy away from it because it’s more complicated and unpredictable than working out a glitch in a system. But giving them the confidence to tackle under-performance BEFORE it becomes a major problem is one of the most crucial skills we can give managers. Have the conversation BEFORE things get too bad. Nip problems in the bud. Work TOGETHER with the employee to tackle the issue rather than get into conflict with them.
All of this is covered in our bite-size session on Managing Underperformance. It will enable managers to:
Recognise 4 main reasons for underperformance at work.
Have a performance improvement conversation with someone.
Draw up a Performance Improvement Plan