Is poor performance a managers fault or an employees fault?
You don’t manage people – you manage the performance of your people against clearly communicated standards.
You lead people and manage performance.
To get the best of out of your people, you not only need to hire right, you need to manage performance in a way that brings out the best in your people.
Imagine three men started work on the same day and the manager said to them, “See those boxes over there, I want you to stack them up.”
The men went about stacking up the boxes. The first man stacked his boxes in a brick pattern. The second man stacked his boxes one on top of the other and the third man stacked his boxes two by two by two.
At noon, the manager came back and began yelling at the three new employees. “I told you to stack those boxes and look what you’ve done. I have a truck coming here in a few minutes and he won’t be able to load them on the truck.”
As it turned out, the boxes needed to be stacked on a wooden pallet, three by three across and three rows high.
The mistake is not that of the employees, the mistake was that of the manager. He wasn’t very clear in his instructions. He should have asked the men to stack their boxes three by three across and three rows high on the wooden pallet and have this completed by twelve noon.
A big difference in instructions.
If employees don’t receive the right training and the right instructions, you cannot blame them for things going wrong and neither are you in a position to manage their performance.
- A detailed job description
- Clearly articulated KPIs
- Regular performance appraisals
- A process for managing under-performance
The job description
Before you can even think about managing performance, an employee must receive a clear description of what their role entails.
A job description, or sometimes known as a position description, contains a wealth of information about the tasks that an employee needs to complete along with who they report to and what qualifications, skills and experience are required to do their job.
A really robust job description also contains the standards to which tasks need to be performed. It also outlines the qualities and skills they need to have.
The job description is the benchmark against which you can measure an employee’s performance.
Apart from your employee having a very clear description of what their role is, a job description also gives you a framework to recruit and train an employee. Employees must receive training in their role otherwise like the example above, they will do what think they are required to do. If an employee is not given clear guidelines, any performance issues are not the fault of the employee, they are the fault of the person they report to.
Key Performance Indicators
In my experience in executive management, I was amazed at how many employees did not have a set of key performance indicators to work to. They had job descriptions by not a guide by which they could train their staff adequately, set the parameters of what they key performance indicators were. This is like playing a game of football with no goal posts. If you have no goal posts how can you keep score.
If you have not clearly articulated your expectations are and what the standards are, then it is not the employees fault if they under-perform. No employee can be expected to perform a role if they don’t know what the expectations and standards are and neither can you manage them effectively. Therefore, you need to establish some written KPI’s or KRA’s and share these with your employee.
A KPI stands for Key Performance Indicators.
KPI’s are used to indicate a performance standard which are sometimes included in a job description. KPIs are sometime referred to as a KRA – Key Result Area.
KPI’s are SMART objectives that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and have a time frame attached to it.
For example, simple KPIs might be:
- Telephones answered within three-five rings
- 90% positive customer feedback
- A minimum of 20 sales calls a week
- Achieve an average of 33% cost of sales
- A minimum contact with customers once every 90 days
- A 75% conversation rate of qualified prospect into customers
You’ll note that these simple KPIs all have a metric attached to them.
With clearly articulated standards like this, not only does the employee know what is expected of them, as a manager you can compare their performance against these standards.
Conduct regular performance appraisals
Managing an employee’s performance is not just about managing poor performance, it’s also about conducting regular performance appraisals. Performance appraisals should be about growing the employee, training opportunities and letting the employee know what they are doing right.
Performance appraisals need to do the following:
- Clarify the employees job role and responsibilities
- Provides them with direction
- Addresses any weaknesses
- Identifies professional development and training needs
- Gives an opportunity to discuss career enhancement and future prospects
The benefits to an employer include:
- It builds trust, rapport and open communication
- It ensures you both have a common direction
- It improves performance outcomes
- It fosters a sense of purpose
- It allows any obstructions to good performance to be overcome quickly
- It assists with career planning as the business grows
- It identifies your own strengths and weaknesses as a manager
The benefits to an employee are:
- They’ll have a clear idea of your expectations
- You’ll be seen as an effective leader
- You’ll gain the employees respect
- It will lead to increased job satisfaction
- Employees experience increased confidence
- It improves morale and motivation
- It improves rapport between management and supervisors
- It encourages a sense of trust
Conducting performance appraisals
Like any good process, there are a number of underling principles that lead to successful performance appraisals.
The process should be fair and equitable for all. It should be based on the performance against clearly articulated standards either in the form of a comprehensive job description and or separate key performance indicators.
It should also be conducted in an honest, open and two-way conversation.
How often you conduct a performance appraisal really depends the employee. A performance appraisal should be conducted at least once a year around the employee’s anniversary. You might also want to conduct a performance appraisal within the first three months of an employee starting to ensure they are on the right track.
A performance appraisal is a formal process that is recorded for the benefit of the employer and employee.
Managing good and poor performance
Managing performance, both good and poor should happen on a regular basis throughout the year as required. For instance, if an employee does an exceptionally good job, it is important for their morale that they are told so. Catching people doing something right builds a positive culture that leads to increased productivity.
Managing poor performance is something that should be dealt with as it happens. Unlike a performance appraisal, this is a meeting that you would have with your employee about a specific aspect of their performance that is not up to standard. It’s important that this is conducted as soon as the under-performance issues comes to light. Any delay reaffirms to the employee that what there are doing is accepted.
Under-performance is not always the fault of the employee.
As with the example about stacking boxes, you cannot effectively manage an employee’s performance if they don’t know what they are meant to be doing, where, when and how.
If you have not provided adequate training and equipment, again it is not the employees fault if they are not performing to the level you require. In this case you need to invest in the proper equipment and training which should be identified in the KPI statement.
If an employee is not performing role to the standard you would like, you need to ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the employee’s behavior out of character?
- Have you clearly articulated what the performance standards are?
- Have you clearly articulated what your expectations are?
- Have you provided the employee with the right skills and equipment to do their job?
- Have you been consistent in managing or addressing their behavior?
- Have you clearly articulated what the outcomes are for the employee if their performance is not up to standard?
If the performance shortfall is out of character
If the employee’s behavior or performance is out of character, there may be some underlying problems that are contributing to their under-performance. It could be a health issue, drugs or alcohol, a personal issue such as financial pressures or a break up or another trigger from within the workplace such as bullying.
Regardless, you have an obligation to tread carefully and afford the employee the benefit of the doubt and try to get to the bottom of the problem. It may be the employee needs time off work or needs to see a therapist. Putting extra pressure on the employee could trigger prolonged anxiety or depression.
If the performance shortfall is not out of character
Once you have established if the performance is not out of character and that you have clearly defined expectations and performance standards, you are ready to give feedback in regard to poor performance. Following are six steps to giving constructive feedback.
Discuss the problem with the employee. Ensure they clearly understand what the standards and expectations are. Discuss how they are performing against these standards.
Discuss the causes of the problem by identifying why the poor performance has occurred. This will indicate how the employee can avoid the behavior in the future.
Ask the employee to respond to the above and outline how they think the performance issue could be resolved. Their feedback may give you an insight you hadn’t thought of and also gets their buy-in and commitment to improve their performance in the future.
Write down the possible solutions to the performance issues – it may be further training, it may be purchasing of equipment, it may be a work load issue so they need extra help. Identifying possible solutions will become a follow up action plan.
Prepare an action plan that you both agree on. The action plan is not just about what the employee needs to do, it may also include what actions you need to take as well. Make sure the actions are specific and have a time frame attached to each one.
Agree on a time to meet again to follow up to assess if the actions agreed upon were completed and to assess if the performance has improved as a result.
Common problems with performance management
- Lack of a job description and or KPIs
- Unclear standards and expectations
- Failure to deal with ongoing performance issues as they occur
- Lack on ongoing feedback and reinforcement of expected standards
- Insufficient preparation and training
- Not maintaining a balance between positive feedback and negative feedback
- Focusing on the personality not the performance
- Attempting to meet conflicting aims and objectives
- Too much talking and telling and not enough mentoring and coaching
Performance = ability x motivation x resources
Under-performance is not always the fault of the employee. If a manager does not induct, train, coach, mentor and communicate clearly articulated KPIs, the employee does not have the tools necessary to perform in their role.
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