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Saturday, November 9, 2013

How to handle performance issues more confidently.

This topic remains high on the list of most stressful situations for new managers, leaders and executives.  This article promotes some very specific techniques that might help if this situation resonates.

Performance challenges

Performance discussion anxieties can among others be broken down into the following concerns:

What if they cry?
What if they deny it and try to cover it up?
What if they become aggressive towards me?
What if this results in a more formal discussion because they won’t change?
What if their performance becomes even worse?
What if they whine to others about me and undermine my leadership?
What if they blame someone else?

Tackling performance assertively

As with most challenges, the resolution primarily starts with us. If we can identify what causes our discomfort and are willing to address this, then we are half way to achieving a better outcome.

When we realise that much of our dis-ease is sourced in a fear of being disliked, then we have the key to unlock our leadership and human potential.

On the surface, an aggressor may seem as though they do not care about anyone else’s feelings.  Although, as we now know, an aggressor is very often dogged by the same low self-esteem issues as those who are submissive. Superficially they may seem unaffected, although the internal stress and anxiety simply fuels further aggression in the pursuit of gaining control and not being seen as weak.

Here are some well-grounded strategies for handling these situations more confidently:

‘Listen with your eyes and hear with your heart.’  This is a lovely quote that I’ve used on many a Leadership Workshop.  It focuses on how we interact with our teams. When we make a decision to lead with compassion then we experience things differently. Observing how our teams operate and looking beyond the performance issue rather than judging them, creates an empathic approach that sets out a much calmer place from which to start a discussion.
Look for patterns of behaviours. Sometimes we are very quick to pounce on a performance issue and whilst we need to be mindful of the timing, observing someone’s patterns gives us more evidence to work with, rather than reacting to what might be a one-off incident.
Collect concrete evidence not hear-say. People will respond more favourably when there are tangible examples of what they have been doing.  Often I hear people reporting ‘I have been told by X, that you have done Y.’ This is such an unhelpful opening.  We must share our experience of their behaviour and not be shaped by what another has observed.
Timing and planning are essential. Fears and anxieties often influence us to put off a difficult discussion, although responding to something in a timely way is important, once we have seen a pattern of behaviour emerging. Obviously, if there is a completely inappropriate display of behaviour such as rudeness, swearing or an outburst, then we must respond immediately.  Before entering a discussion, it is important to think about what we want to say and what outcome we need to achieve.
Focus on the behaviour not the person. People often react defensively when they feel attacked or threatened.  So comments like, ‘You were so aggressive.’ ‘You didn't handle that very well.’ ‘You can’t treat someone like that’, are all likely to get us an non-constructive reaction.  The ‘you’ is the key to the threat and sounds very accusatory.
Instead use phrases like, ‘I noticed that you seemed upset during that phone call.’  ‘When I asked you to complete that task, you seemed uncomfortable.’  ‘Tell me about that call you had, as by your reaction, I felt that it hadn't gone so well.’
Offer help. Everyone deserves a chance to change and if we keep the discussion open, we can focus on helping to improve the situation.  Ask what we can do to help them, ask what commitments they need support with and focus on coaching them through the challenges rather than dictating what needs to happen.
Keep discussions private. This may seem obvious, although I have seen many discussions about performance happen in the public arena, which is tantamount to disaster.  A public debate does nothing for the protection of the individual’s welfare. A private room is essential.
Get commitments. At the end of the conversation we need to close the discussion positively and provide some encouragement and affirmation where we can. Whilst this is not appropriate for all performance discussions, more often than not it will help the individual see that they are supported and valued.  Secure commitments that they will make to change the situation and ensure they are equipped to honour those actions.

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