People Management Series Part 1: Square Employee, Round Job Role? Round off their Edges with Effective Performance Conversations.

Every manager has, at some time or other, had at least one ‘problem’ employee who simply doesn’t fit (square peg, round hole).  This is someone they inherited, recruited (only to find the employee who shows up to work is not the one they recruited!) or someone who started with a bang and then lost momentum.

Problems may include rubbing people the wrong way with a lack of interpersonal or conflict management skills, lack of effective time management resulting in not being able to deliver within a reasonable time frame, excessive absenteeism and poor general performance and engagement in their role.

Unfortunately, these issues can lead to managers and team members getting sucked into the endless vortex of frustration and annoyance.  The amount of energy these people suck out of everyone around them is legendary. Often managers will start considering how to transition them out of the business, but the process and paperwork is lengthy and arduous, not to mention the huge recruitment and productivity costs that the business will need to wear.

Does any of this strike a chord with you?  Before giving up on the employee in question, try following these tips and you may yet be able to ‘smooth their edges’ and turn things around.

Tip 1:  Ask questions in a tone that is curious (not critical) about what you have noticed and say you are keen that the employee bring about the necessary changes so that both of you can focus on doing your best work without distractions.  Ask open questions that avoid setting the stage for a defensive answer, and let the employee give you their perspective so they can feel heard and understood.

Tip 2: Listen and be open to what the employee has to say.  Judgements that come from labeling employees become fueled with frustration and irritation. This negative emotion ‘leaks’ out to the poorly performing employee, causing a backlash. There may be some simple causal factors (or even more serious, insidious factors) impacting the employee’s performance, engagement and work quality, or some simple misunderstandings of what is expected of them.

Tip 3: Give clear observation-based feedback, conveying warmth as this is a threatening situation for the other person.  Remember to say what you appreciate about what they bring to the team (if this applies!) Be prepared for the person to say you never give them a pat on the back! Poor employee performance, disengagement and poor communication are often a result of feeling ‘disconnected’ from the team and not feeling appreciated for their input and expertise.

Tip 4: Be immediate with feedback.  If someone does something you are concerned about, say: “That concerns me.”  Just be straight and immediately say what you feel. It is not an accusation – just opening your mind to another person and comparing notes – a meeting of viewpoints. Say why it concerns you and be open to finding out why they did what they did that could change your view.

Tip 5: Clarify consequences of what the employee is doing. Often people are simply unaware of the impact they are having. This is where good managers say I am looking forward to you getting on top of this. Let’s recap on what you’ve agreed, to sort this issue out………….Great. We’ll catch up end of next week and see how it is going.

Tip 6: Be professional.  Don’t let your frustration with the employee get the better of you and lower your own performance as a leader. Never bad-mouth an employee – you run a serious risk of losing credibility and trust, leaving your employees questioning your capability to lead.

Tip 7: Remember that employee performance depends on your insights and guidance. Not letting them know when what they are doing is negatively impacting how they are seen, is unfair and neglectful. Failure to do this is possibly a greater performance problem than what the employee is doing, as more is expected of those with a title. Don’t make excuses and don’t put it off.  Your leadership credibility will come into question if you don’t take the necessary action when it comes to performance.

Tip 8: Get help from the professionals! Engage external performance improvement coaches. Often staff will respond more effectively to an external coach in a one-on-one coaching situation, or even just as a third party that offers an objective perspective and is able find the root cause and offer expert advice to address it.

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