Dealing with Poor Performance

I have lost track of the number of senior leaders who are convinced poor performance is endemic in their organisation – a constant nagging worry that people aren’t really delivering as well as they could.

The ‘quick fix’ is usually some version of ‘difficult conversation’ training for managers.  And given that the nagging worries never seem to go away, the quick fix isn’t working very well.

I’ve spent a decade or more looking at managing performance from every angle.  When I look at the poor performance challenge, there are some key factors that need addressing before going anywhere near the actual ‘conversation’ with the poor performer.

What is the problem?

Too often we fail to analyse the nature of the problem effectively.  Is it work ethic?  Capability? Poor relationships with others?    Without a rich understanding of all aspects of the ‘poor performance’ problem, any attempt to find solutions in a ‘difficult conversation’ are doomed.

What’s our role in the problem?

Managers and colleagues can be causes of performance problems, which is a tough thing to admit.  Be brutal – how much of poor performance is actually perception? Structural? Lack of feedback? What is the manager’s role, or even the senior leader’s roles?  If people aren’t set up to succeed, then they may fail.

What are the possible solutions of the problem?

Again, many people head straight into ‘difficult conversations’ on the assumption that a good solution will be found if only they hold the conversation well.  Years of experience shows that this is not the case.   If problems have become so bad that the conversation is now ‘difficult’ – then great answers are unlikely to appear spontaneously.  It’s vital that a manager thinks through all outcomes of the problem, starting with ‘I do nothing and the problem miraculously goes away’ through to ‘I have a terrible conversation which results in blame/anger/unplanned exits, etc.’

Making a choice

Managers need to look at all possible outcomes of a conversation, and think about what the best outcome is in the circumstances.  Then plan a conversation to aim for that.

For more information about our Dealing with Poor Performance Toolkitclick here.


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