6 tips to help managers improve poor performance

Tackling poor or under-performance is something that comes up a lot with managers I work with.

When I dig a bit deeper, I often find that the issues haven’t been confronted directly with the team member concerned. Instead, the issues are skirted around, leading the team member to conclude that all is A-ok.

A lack of confidence is the factor that gets in the way, coupled with a fear of potential fall-out.

So, if this sounds like you (or someone you know) then these six tips should help:

1. Plan ahead to keep things focused: I’m assuming you wouldn’t attempt to run a marathon without first putting in the prep. So, why is it that so many managers think it’s okay to go into a performance meeting with literally no prep?

If you know you’ve got a potentially difficult conversation to have with a team member about poor or under performance then take some time to jot down your main thoughts. Fail to do this and what generally ensues is either avoidance or even worse, machine-gun fire where a whole load of issues and resentments that have built up over time get fired off.

What are the most important concerns you have relating to the performance? Keep these to three as a maximum. They need to be the most pressing issues.

2. Get your head in the game: Hands up if you rush from meeting to meeting? And keep your hand up if you end up going in to meetings late because the previous meeting over-ran?

I’m guessing if I asked you how you felt in those instances you might say “frazzled”, “stressed”, “disorganised”. What impact do you think that will have on a meeting that’s already likely to be difficult?

If you know that you have a potentially difficult performance discussion in your diary then block the time before and after. Even if it’s 10 minutes either side. Go find a quiet space and get your head in the game.

3. Ride the silence: We still seem stuck in the old ways of thinking, in that a manager has to have all the answers. And this is why so many end up being afraid of the silence – for fear of being seen as inept.

When you tell someone something they either weren’t expecting to hear, or don’t want to hear, then there may be some shock as it registers. The worst thing you can do in the 10-plus seconds silence that inevitably follows, as the person registers, is to jump in.

Silence is powerful.

Silence is your friend.

4. Remember, s/he who assumes make an ass out of ‘u’ and ‘me’: Don’t assume you know what’s going on with the person. Don’t assume that they are simply a bad person with a bad attitude (a comment I’ve heard too many managers make over the years).

They are a person, not a robot. And they may be struggling with stuff both inside and outside work.

Yes, some people do have stuff going on outside the office. Shocking, isn’t it?

So, before you launch in with both feet, start off the session by asking how things are for them. This, coupled with riding the silence, can often be enough to tease out that there is something stressful going on outside work.

Questions are also your friend.

By showing some support and offering help, you’re far more likely to help the person improve their performance. Check out this post which talks about the impact a manager’s relationships with staff has on performance.

5. Break things down into small chunks: Sometimes under or poor performance can simply be down to the person feeling overwhelmed. You’ll know this if you follow tip number four.

Your job is to help them break things down into smaller, more manageable steps. Asking the person, “what is one small thing you can do to take x forward?” can be a good way to start. It could be as simple as ‘send an email to y by 5.30 today’. You get the gist.

Help them identify something small to do every day to help them get back on track.

Your job is also to look at what unimportant things can be stripped out from their to-do list so they are freed up to focus on the most important stuff.

6. Set up more regular check-ins until things get back on track: If you’re still relying on the monthly 121 to manage performance then you may well be on a hiding to nothing.

Now, we’re not talking about micro-management. That can make the problem even worse.

Checking in can be as simple as a 5 minute chat first thing – find out what they’ve got going on, ask if there’s anything you can do to help. Or you might want a weekly catch up, over a coffee, at the end of the week to find out how the week’s gone for the person; what they felt they achieved; what their focus is next week; and how you can help them achieve their goals for the week.

Checking-in can help prevent the person check-out and give you more confidence that things are getting back on track.

What approaches have you used to help a team member get performance back on track? Why not share in the comments section below so that others can benefit from your experience?

Did you find this post helpful? I’d love to know, so Tweet me, or drop me a note on LinkedIn. If you have any colleagues that you feel should read this, too, please share it with them. I’d really appreciate it.

I also have a monthly newsletter which is a compilation of blog posts, helpful research, and reviews of books and podcasts – all aimed at helping managers and leaders become more confident in handling a range of workplace issues. You can subscribe here -> SUBSCRIBE

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