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Dear Teressa: I’m A Manager Who Needs Help Handling Performance Problems

November 11, 2013

Dear Teressa TuesdayI’m a manager in a large company with 15 direct reports.  Sometimes, I have trouble figuring out how to handle certain performance problems.  How do I figure out what to do? 
  ~D.G.

Dear D.G.,

Here are a few “how to” pointers for your consideration.  As you weigh various options, remember to make use of all internal, company-sponsored resources, such as your Human Resources business partners.  Consultation with those who know your company’s culture, policies and practices can prove invaluable.

How to Select the Most Appropriate Course of Action

A first step in determining how to effectively address a specific performance or behavior problem, is to ask yourself which course of action the problem calls for?

  1. Write down a description of the issue you need to address.
  2. Then, ask yourself which of the following options fits the situation.
    • Is feedback sufficient?  You simply describe the person’s behavior and its impact.
    • Is coaching more appropriate?  You work to strengthen performance through teaching, training and encouraging.
    • Is it a personal matter that requires counseling?  If so, you may choose to play the role of a good listener and clarifier.
    • Or, is the situation more serious?  One where behavior change is warranted, or consequences follow – consequences such as not supporting a promotion, delivering a written reprimand, changing the person’s rating to Improvement Needed or pursuing termination.

If none of the above descriptions fits the situation, talk with your manager, mentor, a trusted peer or your Human Resources professional.  You’re bound to benefit from their experience and perspective.

How to Guard Against Personal Bias

Managers engender trust and create a sense of safety when their decisions appear fair.  So, whether the performance concern you need to address is related to results achieved, teamwork, presentation skills, attendance, the ever-nebulous “attitude,” appearance, or hygiene, the following questions may help you guard against unconscious, unintentional personal bias:

  • Why do I see this behavior as a problem?  Does it diminish the individual’s effectiveness or that of the team?
  • Is the behavior out of alignment with relevant performance expectations and metrics, company policies and practices, our cultural norms and standards of professionalism?
  • Am I seeing the situation clearly? Is there an aspect of this issue that I’m blind to?  What am I missing?
  • If anyone else on the team behaved this way, would I reach the same conclusion about the behavior?

These kinds of questions can help you think through situations more objectively, and avoid the quagmire of personal bias and favoritism.

Take Time to Prepare for Important Conversations  

When engaging in difficult, sensitive conversations, you serve yourself, as well as, the other person, when you take time to be well prepared.  Write out what you want to say and role-play the scenario.  These extra steps will clarify the message you need to deliver – the exact words – and the best way to get your message across – your tone and non-verbals.  Preparation boosts your confidence and increases your effectiveness, even in tense situations.

Set up a dress rehearsal and practice managing the conversation.  Ask a trusted source to play the role of the other person.  Coach him or her so that they know how respond, verbally and nonverbally, just as you imagine the person will.  Don’t talk about role-playing, actually do it!  Practice your lines.  See how you feel saying them.  And, notice how you feel when faced with the other’s reaction.

Then, when it’s time for the real conversation – you’ll feel more confident, and be well equipped to keep the discussion on track and deliver your important message with great respect and clarity.

D.G., I hope you find these techniques helpful.  The right course of action, well executed, can provide the support that’s needed to help your direct reports improve their performance, and your department’s effectiveness.

Teressa Moore Griffin

Here’s how to submit your “Dear Teressa” question.

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