So, you’ve decided to call an employee in to talk about his performance. Maybe you’ve noticed the employee seems disinterested about taking on new tasks. Or that his work is regularly late when it used to be prompt.
Regardless, you know you have to have “the talk.”
How you approach the performance chat will affect the response you’ll get – and the turnaround you’re hoping for.
But even though your main goal is to improve the employee’s performance, your chat might backfire if you have an underlying motive going in.
According to leadership coach Marlene Chism, managers sometimes harbor hidden agendas in performance conversations that can lead us to focus in the wrong direction.
Here are some of the big ones Chism says to avoid:
The Intention Just to Punish
If your goal is to justify punishment, you’re likely to get little buy-in from the employee to avoid the mistake he made in the first place.
Trying to scare employees into doing the correct thing or doing a job better will only intimidate them. This could lead to the employee hiding work from you out of fear, or (more likely) to him searching for another job.
And this could cause a problem if an employee is an otherwise good worker.
“You may have good reason to be angry [about the mistake or bad performance],” says Chism, “but showing resentment is a sign that your intention may not be in the right place.”
Start these performance conversations up front with an acknowledgment of what the employee did wrong, and why it made you concerned: “I know you know what you did wrong, but I also want to make sure you understand why I’m displeased.”
The Intention to Prove Your Own Points
If you find yourself starting arguments with your employee in a performance conversation, your focus is off track. When an employee doesn’t agree with negative feedback, allow her to state her case, rather than jumping in with a combative answer.
“You’re the boss, but don’t forget that you’re on the same team,” says Chism. Your goal is not to score points against an underling, but to stress to the employee that you’re entitled to critique their performance.
Be clear about the desired changes you want to see rather than concentrating on taking the employee’s arguments down: “Well, I’ve told you what the problem is, and rather than argue about it, I want to help you with ideas on how you can do better.”
The Intention to Showcase Your Own Brilliance
Some managers use the opportunity of an employee performance conversation to wax eloquent on their own experiences and successes.
If you use a tale from your own career to make a point about the employee’s performance, that’s OK. But if you use yourself as some sort of paragon of genius, it will probably just turn your employee off.
“Make sure you aren’t using [the] conversation as a stage for bragging rights. Instead, think about ways to use your experience to help the employee shine,” Chism suggests: “Trust me, I understand … I went through some of the same learning curves you’re going through, so I’m proof you’ll get the hang of it soon.”
The Intention to (Just) Comply
Some resourceful managers dread performance conversations so much, they do them only to comply with HR or department rules.
If you find yourself putting off the conversation and not giving it any effort, it’s a sign you might have fallen into the compliance trap.
It could be a defense mechanism; maybe too many past performance conversations have gone sour. Or maybe you’re unsure what to tell the employee; he’s not performing up to par but you don’t see a clear solution on how to set him straight.
You can overcome this with better planning. Ask yourself what you need to convey to the employee, in detail, and consider ways you could see him improving.
Putting more effort into the conversation – rather than just going through the motions to document it – gives you a starting point, says Chism. Begin the talk with a broad opening rather than a specific accusation: “You seem to be falling short on [this task], so let’s talk about why.”
The Intention to Prove Your Importance
Sometimes what starts as a performance critique ends with a “because I said so!” thud.
Reminding an employee of his subordinate status while reviewing his performance comes across as bullying rather than help.
Putting an employee in his place might seem like the right thing at the time, but it’s often unnecessary and turns a teachable moment into a negative experience.
If you sense that a performance chat is turning into a game of one-upmanship, do your best to avoid the battle. Make sure your course-correction is geared toward making the employee better.
You’ll ultimately be more respected if employees view you as fair, Chism says: “I don’t want to tell you how to do your job, I want to make sure you understand it.”
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Clearing our heads of hidden agendas or underlying motives when going into a performance chat makes us more focused on the goal at hand – improving the employee’s performance – so we’ll more likely get that result.
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