Dealing with poor performance can be tricky even for the most experienced of leaders. But when you are in a new role, it can be even harder. There is a tendency to lean towards focusing on the tangible high profile stuff. But a problem with a member of the team that is no longer just a leaking tap could lead to the pipe bursting, and that is not the kind of visibility you want! You may have inherited the problem, or at first, it didn’t seem like a big issue, so you let it slide. But the reality is you need to be brave, roll your sleeves up and get plumbing!
You want to deliver and look good, but this performance issue is making a severe dent in team morale and their ability to perform. At this point in your career, you thought you had a handle on issues like this, but this has taken you by surprise. It’s often our own demons, fears, and anxieties that can hold us back and prevent us from dealing with poor performance. So we tolerate the leaking tap.
We get pulled into doing the tangible things we can deliver like writing reports, leading meetings and delivering presentations. Over time feelings of overwhelm and stress can take over, and you are trying to do everything but achieving nothing. You have a leaky tap. This people issue could have been addressed earlier, but now this problem has become much more significant than it needs to be. It’s not too late – you can start by having a conversation that counts to turnaround your results. Yes, it’s simple but it isn’t always easy, so here are five reminders to help you.
1. Manage your own mindset. Managing how you approach work first is key if you want to make a positive impact on your team. Know that dealing with your own mindset and influencing your team’s is a vital part of leadership. To do this often requires you to be brave to make sure you have the difficult conversations. Leadership is not all about the tangible stuff. Sometimes the intangible behind-the-scenes action is what leads to real results. It’s having the courage to deal with issues head-on. Make sure you balance your internal dialogue and self-talk so that you can have the conversations that count. All sorts of fears can come up when a performance management conversation is required, and the likelihood is that it is your self-talk that is getting in the way.
2. Is your team clear on standards and expectations? We all like having something we can measure ourselves against. It amazes me how many teams don’t have a conversation to explore how they are going to work together. So often teams gather in a room at the beginning of the year and agree their values, mission, and vision for the year. Before they have left the room, the flip chart paper has been stuffed in the bin never to be cited again, and the whiteboard scribble washed away forever. Of course, it is less about what is written down and more about the quality and impact of the conversation. Are you being explicit about what you want? Is your team aware that they need to hold each other to account if people are not pulling their weight or adhering to standards? People talk about ‘team charters’ and ‘mission statements,’ but they don’t go deep enough with them. Be precise, go deep and make sure the whole team are on board. Make sure everyone in the team knows they have a responsibility to hold each other accountable. If you want more tips on how to making meetings matter read my article about it.
3. Feedback and Feedforward. Before you think about documenting performance or consulting HR about a PIP, ask yourself the question. Am I giving high-quality feedback? You need to make sure you are giving constructive criticism that they can build on. I find that using the Feedforward method can be really effective. Help your team members identify an area of development and then gain insights from stakeholders in the business about how they can grow in that particular area. This will require you as a leader to take the time to have coaching conversations with your team to raise their levels of self-awareness. Check for understanding and be clear on the next steps.
4. Have empathy with the team member. Their dip in performance may not be lack of competence or capability to do their job. With people come problems, human beings are complex individuals, and it is never as simple as competence or capability. There can be many reasons for lack of performance, and it can vary from individual to individual. Be empathic, listen to them, be present and hear why there is a gap. Often team leaders don’t empathise enough and it causes hostility, or they over empathise and end up rescuing their team member. Neither help to create constructive conversations. If you give them the opportunity and hold the space, they will be able to identify how to close the gap themselves, which teaches them to take responsibility for their own actions.
5. Provide support. When employees aren’t meeting expectations, it makes sense to offer coaching and different resources to help them improve. Keeping communication channels open is critical, allowing the whole team to have a voice will benefit you all. Providing support doesn’t mean doing it for them, it means accessing ‘tough love’ and having difficult conversations. Help them articulate what their needs are and the mechanisms of support that will help them but don’t do it for them. This actually crushes growth, which creates more problems than it solves in the long-term.
Fixing the leaking tap will mean everyone in the team is happy, including you! No one likes performing poorly – addressing the situation head-on and having a conversation that counts means that you are modelling an open and happy workplace for people to succeed in.
I help leaders and teams have conversations that count. If you need help addressing individual or team performance, do get in touch in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.