Behind the problems that routinely plague teams and organisations are individuals who either can’t or won’t deal with failed promises – some have just not performed well, missed deadlines or behaved badly; others have broken rules or have been involved in more serious issues. The managers that attempt to address these difficulties often do so unprofessionally, sometimes even creating a whole new set of problems. This seeming lack of leadership and communication skills can be very costly, sapping organisational performance by 20% – 50%, sowing distrust and slowly poisoning the organisational culture. Ongoing organisational effectiveness (fundamentally the same of which is human-relations effectiveness) is of the utmost urgency in an unforgiving marketplace. Trust within teams and the ability to rely on others with confidence are critical ingredients in the development of a robust and well-knitted relational structure that can problem-solve, be innovative, deliver excellent client service and challenge competitors to gain market share. As such, leaders need to deal with performance and other relational challenges swiftly and professionally to deliver on the following messages:

  • Care – about individuals, teams and the organisation (we don’t want to fail)
  • Performance – the expectation is that everyone is required to perform well (bad performance will not be tolerated)
  • Accountability – we are all accountable to each other
  • Focus and energy – aligning effort to organisational priorities

Many attempts to deal with poor performance fail, not because the other person is bad or wrong, but because managers handle these conversations poorly. Some managers, using an aggressive approach, escalate the problem as people tend to dig in their heels. For other managers, fear drives an apologetic approach and this may weaken their leadership influence ability. Some managers even keep silent as they feel they don’t have the skills to confront an employee and the poor performance thus persists. All of the above approaches are not helpful and don’t contribute effectively towards the development of a high performance organisation.

Poor performance and other relational difficulties need to be addressed. The following steps (with examples) should be applied for effective confrontation:

  1. Work it out in your head first – before you meet with the employee, understand the exact nature of the behaviour that needs to be addressed. There should be no vagueness at all when communicating the issue at stake – the performance gap. Ensure that you don’t make any judgements regarding motive or character, just observable behaviour (e.g. employee’s call rates are dropping in frequency, not quality).
  2. Create safety – an environment of safety is created when the employee feels valued and respected. The opening sentences of the conversation should serve this purpose (e.g. Joe, thanks for meeting with me. We are getting great feedback from our customers regarding the pleasant and efficient way that you handle their complaints and other issues. We are proud of you in this respect. Thank you. What I would like to speak to you about today, however, is your call rate …).
  3. Give evidence of the performance gap – no guesswork here. The gap should have been measured (e.g. Joe, as you know, we monitor the call rates and the quality of the conversations of all our agents and we have noticed that your call rates are significantly down in the past month – the numbers for this past month are …).
  4. Explore possible reasons – do not make assumptions, but solicit the possible reason/s from the employee (e.g. I think that I am potentially too friendly on the phone and get carried away in the conversation. I need to be more succinct).
  5. Explore possible solutions – again, solicit possible solutions from the employee (e.g. Joe, whilst keeping the friendly tone in the conversation, what do you think you can do to make the calls more succinct?).
  6. Set objectives and timelines – get agreement and commitment from the employee. Offer ongoing assistance if necessary (e.g. Joe, if you need a few dummy practise runs with me, I would be very happy to assist with this).
  7. Set an appointment for review – agree on a reasonable period to enable noticeable improvement and then set an appointment to review together.
  8. Thank the employee for ongoing effort – end the conversation positively with assurance (e.g. Joe, I am confident that you can get back to the place where you are handling the required number of calls per hour. In anticipation, thanks for your effort in this).

Performance gaps, left unchecked, lead to distrustful and insecure environments, organisational inefficiency and a weakened leadership. Performance conversations should be held regularly – calmly and professionally – to ensure that focus and optimal amounts of energy are applied appropriately.

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