Gradually, many of us are coming to the realization that our future consists of a new normal in the face of COVID-19. What will that look like? While industries such as healthcare and education will likely transform significantly – how we work as a whole has changed, overnight. In response to COVID-19, companies scrambled to shift office workers to working from home and for many, there’s no turning back. But many have realized, working remotely is not all it’s cracked up to be – for remote employees or leaders. People have been working from home for a few weeks now yet teams are still struggling – even more than they did two weeks ago! Why? It’s not a lack of trying, and it’s not a matter of technology. What separates good teams from underperforming teams is not the distance between them but the connection they have with each other. This new normal of remote work is a call to us as leaders to foster connection.
“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
What experiences have made you who you are today? Whether good or bad, experiences can change us. An event may change the way we see a person, or the world entirely. Being part of or witnessing an incident can trigger intense chemical responses within us of pleasure or pain. Our perception and response to an occurrence transforms a neutral event to a life-altering experience. In recent years we’ve applied this understanding to our workplaces, resulting in the term employee experience, often referred to as EX.
What is the definition of employee experience?
Employee experience is an all-encompassing term used to describe an employee’s perception and observations regarding the collective events, interactions, and benefits he/she undergoes as part of the journey in working for a company. Unlike many definitions that define the experience as simply a person’s journey working for an organization, the word experience implies the personal and emotional response to potentially neutral events. While workplace events and communications take place in an office or around an employee, it’s an employee’s perception and/or interpretation of these events that make for his/her unique experience.
How is employee experience different from employee engagement?
The term employee engagement has been around for several years. Engaged employees are defined as physically energized, emotionally connected, mentally focused, and indicate alignment with the purpose of the company (Loehr & Schwartz, 2003). By this definition, employee engagement is a positive state of mind or mindset held by employees. Research suggests companies with high employee engagement are more profitable, more productive, have higher sales, are safer, have lower turnover, and have lower employee absenteeism. Whereas the term employee engagement is used to describe how connected an employee feels to his/her work and company, the term employee experience is used to describe an employee’s perception of a collection of events and exchanges related to his/her working for the company. How much a person feels connected to or disconnected from their work may be a result of a positive or negative employee experience. So, while a high level of engagement may be the goal, it is achieved by strategically improving different aspects of the employee experience. Many metrics may be used to assess how positive or negative a company’s employee experience is. Employee engagement is just one of these metrics used.
How is a company’s employee experience measured?
The ultimate goal of a positive employee experience is a healthy business. So, when a company fails to perform successfully, it is often a sign of a misaligned or even poor employee experience. Because of this, metrics used to assess a company’s operational and financial performance such as revenue, shrinkage, customer retention, and productivity also serve as valuable methods of measuring a company’s employee experience.
A company’s workforce data such as employee turnover, retention, absenteeism, and overtime per employee rates are also indicators of an effective or ineffective employee experience as these datapoints are reflective of employee behaviors driven by their experience. The two most popular methods for evaluating a company’s employee experience are employee engagement, as explained previously, and the Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS). The eNPS system was born out of the customer loyalty metric, Net Promoter Score (NPS), first recognized by Fred Reichheld of Bain & Company in 2003. Through research, Reichheld and the Bain team found customers responding positively to the question, “what is the likelihood you would refer Company X to a friend or colleague”, were very likely to demonstrate positive buying behaviors (rebuying, referring new customers, and spend more). It was later as the concept of the internal customer (employees) grew that industry and leaders began applying the model internally giving way to the eNPS, asking employees the question, “On a scale of 0-10, how likely are you to recommend the Company as a (good) place to work?”. Higher eNPS ratings reflect more employee loyalty, higher employee satisfaction, and suggest a more engaged workforce. While generally this is a metric intended for internal use only, not designed for benchmarking, scores can range from -100 to +100 and generally scores in the 10-30 range are considered good, and 50+ considered excellent.
What can a company do to improve its employee experience?
To improve a company’s employee experience is to improve an employee’s perception of how the company rewards, recognizes, motivates, drives, communicates with, hires, terminates, values, supports, and develops its employees. While an eNPS score can provide an overview of how an employee feels about and perceives the company, an eNPS rating does not identify why. To improve the employee experience it is then important to understand both the employee’s overview of the company AND the what led to this perception. For this reason, it is best to ask employees to rate not only their overall perception of the company (eNPS) but also ask their outlook as it relates to attributes of the employee experience (recognition, communication, safety, brand, management engagement, employee engagement, culture, compensation & benefits, and business viability). With this data, companies can decipher what employees like and dislike about their interactions with the company as well as how heavily the different aspects of the employee experience impact their unique company culture. For example, a media company had poor employee ratings around compensation and benefits. Upon further examination however, compensation & benefit ratings had very little impact on whether an employee felt positively or negatively about the company’s employee experience (no correlation between comp & benefit ratings and eNPS ratings). Instead, recognition (how employees feel rewarded for outstanding performance) and brand pride (whether employees are proud to work for the company and of the company’s impact to the industry/community) were the most influential attributes to a positive employee experience. With this realization, the company chose to strategically invest allotted time and budget to people initiatives around recognition and employee-brand alignment, appreciating the value employees place on these aspects of their relationship with the company. These insights allowed the company to create a much more thoughtful and unique experience for employees that resonates with its culture and helps deliver better business results.
Just as today we each are a culmination of our past individual experiences, our current workplace cultures are a reflection of our collective employee experiences. Experiences are not based on logic. We often don’t even realize what historical work-related events led to the perceptions we hold so firmly today. By asking concise, reflective questions in a strategic way, we shift the employee experience from habitual to intentional. Every workplace has an employee experience leading somewhere. Where is your current employee experience leading you?
Are you gearing up for annual employee reviews? And are you dreading it? If you’ve answered “yes” to these questions, know you are not alone. A 2018 WorldatWork survey shows 94% of companies conduct formal employee reviews annually – and a separate study suggests we hate them. 95% of managers surveyed are dissatisfied are with the process and nearly 90% of HR executives feel results are inaccurate. A Gallup survey shows only 14% of employees feel performance reviews inspire them to improve. So, if it’s so awful, should we just chuck the review process all together? No. Although there is frustration on all sides of the current traditional process, employees who have had a review in the past year are more engaged in their work than employees who haven’t. Surprisingly, 82% of employees say they value receiving feedback (positive and negative) with 65% of employees wanting more feedback. So rather than abandoning performance reviews entirely, here are the three ways to elevate your culture and your business by simply fixing what’s broken with our current approach to employee reviews.
1. Increase the frequency.
Seems counterintuitive right? Managers, HR professionals, and employees dread them, so do them MORE? Much of what seems to be broken is that we are only talking about performance once per year. A Gallup poll shows only 15% of employees working for a manager who does not meet with them regularly are engaged. Consider this, what if you set an intention on January 1st to lose 15 pounds by December 31st? Then, come the morning of December 31st you weigh yourself – for the first time since setting the intention nearly a year earlier and you instead gained five pounds. How would you feel? How would it have been different had you known in September that you were further away from your goal that in January? You could’ve chosen to do something about it – but now that you waited the entire year, you’ve really painted yourself into a corner of disappointment. Waiting to talk about employee performance is the same. No one works their butts off only to have it all come crashing down when it’s too late. Frequent, less formal reviews, often referred to as check-ins, allow employees some time for course correction and leaders the opportunity to evaluate employee goals and performance as needs of the business change. Check-ins also allow for more trust to be established between employees and managers. Social psychology identifies two types of trust, cognitive – trust based on what you know about someone, and affective – trust based on emotional connection and closeness. It’s through frequent interaction with another that we develop affective trust in another – so long as both parties act in a trustworthy way of course.
Recently there has been a lot of talk, and some significant research on what makes a good boss. Top traits include being a good coach, helping employees achieve their professional goals, and caring about employee success & well-being. A Harvard study of 3,200 employees found employees describing their culture as caring, had higher levels of satisfaction and teamwork, less absenteeism, and better company performance. What this means from an employee appraisal or check-in standpoint is – performance discussions should serve as a time to either support or recognize an employee depending on how that employee is doing. Performance reviews – whether formal or informal – are not simply a time to report back performance data. If an employee isn’t performing, work with the employee to identify why he/she is struggling – and how to fix it! If an employee is performing above expectations, recognize the employee for a job well done. Get to know about what is important to employees – what they love and dislike about their work. Caring about employee success will not only make for more valuable reviews and check-ins but also make for a more open and honest relationship. What managers did you have that cared about your happiness and success? How did you choose to show up for them each day? Our employees are no different. Start each employee check-in by asking how they are doing. Did they recently go on vacation? Is his son graduating high school? Did she get a new car? Did she have a big sale? Is it his busy time of year? Start each check-in building rapport, reinforcing you care. “I know you are wanting to spend every minute with your son before he heads off to college, so let’s talk about what you have on your plate and make sure we’re streamlining everything as much as possible to get you out early on Fridays.” Empathizing with the employee and offering support to get work done in a way that benefits you both is highly effective.
3. Collaborate on goals
The happiest and most valuable employees are the employees that understand how their work translates to company success. They get it. Without this understanding, an employee’s manager is no longer a manager but a babysitter or a person that barks orders. But leaders are responsible for exposing employees to this mindset, by explaining company initiatives and describing how the employee’s work aligns to those initiatives. For this reason, effective employee reviews happen when employees and managers collaborate on employee goals. With a basic understanding of what the company aims to achieve for the month, quarter, year, or whatever timeframe, encourage employees to create their own goals for the period. Aside from helping employees get more engaged in the business, there are also some psychological benefits. Research shows that when we create our own goals, the emotional and strategic parts of the brain work together to plan for and envision the goal, turning our attention away from less productive thoughts and events that aren’t aligned to our goals. When an employee then creates his or her own goal that a leader then reviews and/or tweaks, the employee is more emotionally and mentally committed to the goal that if we as leaders were to just prescribe them goals. When we encourage employees to create specific challenging goals, studies show these difficult goals will actually lead to higher performance than easy goals (such as “do your best), or no goals at all. Because mindset is critical to achieving any goal – regardless of it being personal or professional, this step is key to making a valuable performance discussion.
Like any interaction with employees, it’s more valuable to both parties when it’s an exchange, not one-way feedback. Historically, performance appraisals were one-way discussions in which a manager advises each employee of how well or poorly he/she performed over the year. Is it any wonder we all dread this process? By implementing these three simple strategies in your performance management process, you solve for a healthier and more effective feedback loop in which leaders work with employees to achieve success. More successful companies start with more successful people and feedback paves the way.
I was 16 and it was my first real sparring match. Although I started karate when I was 13, I had braces. For safety reasons, we weren’t allowed to spar with braces, so my training in sparring was delayed, significantly. I was three years behind everyone else my age and I was TERRIFIED of being punched in the face. Thinking back now, I’m not sure if I was more afraid of the pain or crying in front of everyone like a baby. To make things worse – I’d always been afraid of ending up with a nose like my dad and knew having it broken in a fight would not help my situation. This was the day I learned how to fight…not because of any tip, trick, move, or skill. On this day, I was punched square in the nose, hard. A loss I still reflect on often, this is the day, the pivotal moment, that led me to go onto become the #2 ranked female collegiate fighter in the nation just three years later.
Master Shojiro Koyama, was very traditional. He disagreed with the decision to let women compete years before I walked into his dojo and was known to pair up young, petite female students with much larger and stronger male students in sparring exercises. We were encouraged to challenge one another physically, it was practice after all. But, we were discouraged from striking with full physical strength. I was competing by the time I started training with M. Koyama but only in kata. In class he would coach me in sparring exercises, frustrated by my over-thinking and apparent lack of instinct. “No thinking!” he shouted at me repeatedly one day, his way of trying to get me out of my own head. Over and over he would tell me not to flinch and to counter immediately after blocking an attack. But, all I could do was freeze and close my eyes. I was scared. I had never been hit in the face before and was paralyzed by fear at even the thought of it! So, the day I had my braces off I was filled with emotion. I had braces for FOUR YEARS, so thoughts of eating corn on the cob or biting into the candy apples at the state fair later that year were really exciting. Realizing I would now need to spar with others who appeared unafraid of a broken nose was terrifying. I continued to struggle in practice but the true horror set in the day of my first competitive fight. Her name was Samantha – and she was good. I knew her from previous competitions and she was a much better and more confident fighter. I was toast. I remember the punch coming at my face and I closed my eyes, as I sadly had done EVERY time in practice. Those I trained with were shouting from the sidelines as Master Koyama had shouted at me in practice, but I didn’t hear them. All I could do was brace myself for the inevitable punch that was now too far along to block. Boom! I knew she hit me because when I opened my eyes, they were watering. Oddly enough, all that I could think of was not to let the ref see my eyes watering or she, my opponent, would get a point! Not sure why I thought the blatant strike went unseen by the ref who was just two or three feet away from us. I refused to blink in an effort to prevent the tears from streaming down my face. But they weren’t tears from crying. If you’ve ever hit your nose or been hit in the nose, you know what I’m talking about here. Tears naturally well up in your eyes following such a hit, but there’s no sobbing or lip quivering like the tears that accompany emotional or physical pain. The ring judge saw the hit and my opponent was awarded the point. Naturally I lost the fight. My biggest fear had come true and it wasn’t the life altering event I’d expected! Although my teacher tried breaking my habit of flinching and freezing for years, my fear of pain and embarrassment was stronger. And suddenly the fear was gone. I’ve never flinched or frozen since.
Is this really such a unique story though? Parents, teachers, co-workers, our friends, family, bosses – we get lots of advice from those around us. But, how much of it do we take or even listen to? I didn’t believe my mom about drinking….until I drank too much. That friend that everyone cautioned me not to trust – I refused to believe it, until she betrayed me. So many painful lessons that could’ve been prevented had I just listened to the advice I was given. And I don’t think I’m the only one who has these stories. So, why is advice only right in hindsight? There is no better teacher than failure. Athletes recall every shot they miss, poker players remember the turn that led to losing a hand. And if you’re gritty, you walk away from that failure assessing and sometimes obsessing over what you need to do to prevent that mistake from happening ever again. Isn’t this what innovation and improvement is all about? How much would we achieve if we made failure acceptable? What would you try today if you didn’t fear the shame of defeat? According to Harvard Business School Professor of Leadership and Management, Dr. Amy Edmonson, a lot. Dr. Edmonson has spent decades studying what makes some teams effective and high-performing and others, not. Ultimately, she discovered better teams actually are more accepting of mistakes. In 1999 she coined the term psychological safety – the belief that you won’t be punished or judged for making a mistake. Without this fear of shame, embarrassment, or judgment, people are more comfortable asking questions, open to learning, speaking up, taking risks, and as result, perform better.
It’s counter intuitive and scary, but failure and success are not mutually exclusive. Part of learning to walk is falling. We learn the value of money when we are without it. For individuals and teams, failure can make or break us. In 1999 I attended a national competition in Denver, Colorado. I was competing for first place against a woman I’d competed against before. She grew up training in karate as her father was a well-respected instructor. She fractured my nose and I quickly countered with a punch to her ribs. She won the point, taking first place. I walked away for the second and final time with a loss and a bloody nose. These are the two fights I still think of more than 20 years later despite sparring hundreds of times in practice and competition. They’re not memories of regret, they’re not memories of sadness…..I remember them as lessons in the journey of my success.
Two separate studies were conducted by Google and the Royal Bank of Canada to determine what traits make for a good boss versus average or even bad boss. Here is what they discovered….
How many great bosses have you had in your career? For me, two stand out. One was with a job I hated, the other was with a job I loved. One was male, the other female. One was a lot like me, the other not like me at all….except maybe for our sense of humor. One was stubborn and feared by some in the organization. The other was the friendliest person you’ve ever met, quick to put others at ease. So, how is it that I would find these two VERY DIFFERENT people equally great? Had I changed over time? There were about ten years between these two bosses after all. I’ve worked with many great people but what made these two bosses great? There is no shortage of research on leadership; however two of my favorite studies were performed by Google (2008, then updated in 2018) and Royal Bank of Canada (RBC, 2011-2013) in separate attempts to determine what makes manager good?
What does a good boss look like?
Do you know a good manager when you see one? Based on the findings of both RBC and Google, not at first glance. Both studies report good manager traits having little to do with what the manager does, but how and why they do it. Micro-managing determined highly ineffective by both groups, suggesting a good manager’s day revolves more around strategy and developing or coaching employees; however nearly all other findings relate to how a good manager engages with employees. Being genuine and showing an interest in both personal and professional well-being for employees rate high on both lists suggesting empathy for others and authenticity are essential in making employees feel valuable. Today this should be no surprise. In 2017, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy wrote about the impact loneliness is having on the workplace. A person with a poor network of friends and family, lacking support needed to push through this epidemic of loneliness in most cases will still need to work, making work perhaps their only opportunity to feel connected. If true, doesn’t it only make sense employees respond positively to managers that seem invested in the employee’s personal journey? Look over the list provided here. How many listed traits do your top managers possess? More importantly, do you feel your under-performing managers can learn the traits and behaviors necessary to be more effective? Can a manager learn to be empathetic and genuine?
Why it matters
Google’s parent company, Alphabet, employs more than 107,000 people worldwide. The company owns more than 88% of search engine market share and is in the race to join the highly exclusive $1 trillion dollar list. RBC employs 80,000 people, and with 1.28 trillion dollars in assets is the biggest bank in Canada and the 11th biggest bank in the world. They look for ways to excel, commit to a solution, and go ALL IN. Google and RBC’s choice to independently research their own management practices that were proving to be effective versus ineffective and build their teams and leaders on these principles is no accident. This research, although beneficial to many, was not done for humanitarian reasons. Good managers drive success. In a study, employees working for a manager identified as average when changed to a manager identified as highly effective, increased productivity by 50%! Good bosses also have lower employee turnover and themselves also stay with companies longer than bad managers. It’s important to note, the 2008 Google study was only after Google surveyed their own engineers to determine whether managers were at all necessary within their organization. It was perhaps this initial project that led them to realize that a good boss is highly valuable whereas a bad boss is actually worse than no boss at all.
I stay in touch with each of my former managers. I trust that I can call either of them today and they will still take time out of their busy schedules to help me. I don’t know what their relationships were like with my peers or other leaders within our former organizations although I suspect those relationships were positive. It was perhaps a year ago that one of them reached out to me in need of a favor. I stopped everything I was doing and immediately jumped at the chance to help my former boss and friend. It was no different when I worked for these individuals. I cared as much about their success as I did my own. That’s the thing about a great boss – their fingerprints from pushing you forward, catching you when you fall….are EVERYWHERE in your life! A great boss changes your life, But because it’s authentic and they genuinely care and love their jobs, it happens so naturally and organically. Only in hindsight do you look back and wonder….were they working for me or was I working for them?
There are two reasons an employee fails to meet reasonable employer expectations – either they can’t or they won’t. Falling short of expectations is often assessed through the lens of skill or will. When the employee is trying but lacks the knowledge or experience needed to succeed in his/her role (skill issue), the solution is most commonly solved with training, coaching, better systems or access to resources, or sometimes mentoring. Managing difficult employees, employees that are not trying however (will issue), is a much bigger challenge.
Behavioral issues are often misdiagnosed as skill/performance issues and therefore often go unresolved. This is especially unfortunate as these behavioral issues can be incredibly damaging to a company’s culture and success. Some of the most common workplace behavioral issues are:
Excessive absenteeism or tardiness (when not as part of an accommodation)
There are two reasons behavioral issues are more difficult, 1) inexperienced leaders, and 2) employee actor-observer bias.
Perhaps the hardest lesson learned in managing and leading people is that we all perceive, think about, and value things differently. It’s easy to say, but when leading a team of conflicting personalities and priorities to achieve a common goal – the leadership can seem overwhelming. Diagnosing why a person with the desire to succeed isn’t, is a tactical diagnosis. An employee wants to get more sales, has a great attitude, works hard, and asks for help – it doesn’t take a lot of experience to recognize he needs training. He’s putting the work in but needs help turning activity into sales. What about the salesperson that isn’t “working hard”? She previously hit her quota every month – but her sales have declined steadily over the last few months. Is she calling out sick all the time? Is she showing up late? Leaving early? When at work – is she working effectively or talking with co-workers and tending more to her social media accounts than customers. Is she selling to fewer people, closing smaller deals, or both? She has shown she can do the job, but somewhere along the line stopped. Why? This is a harder problem to solve because it requires insight, empathy, and a genuine desire to understand. Generally, these are leadership qualities developed with experience. It’s by managing and leading people that you develop the confidence and self-awareness needed to step outside of your own head willing to look at a situation from the perspective of another. Good people make bad choices all of the time. Many inexperienced managers assume the person “doesn’t care” or simply “has a bad attitude”. A leader I worked with in the past would respond to managers complaints about an employee by asking the manager, “was the employee bad when you hired him or did you make him bad?”. If you want employees to understand the “why” behind your company’s purpose, you need to understand their why as well. Why do they choose to work hard? Why do they sometimes choose not to? You can discipline them, you can warn them, you can suspend them, but nothing serves as a solution to a behavioral problem unless you first understand the why behind it. Why did they stop caring? That’s the first step on the path to a solution. Most employees can regain their love and passion to succeed in their role. First though – we as leaders NEED to ask what caused it to be lost in the first place.
The actor-observer bias at work
The actor-observer bias is one of several attribution biases, concepts used in social psychology to describe irrational patterns in how we view our own behaviors and interpret behaviors of others. The term refers to our tendency to attribute our own behaviors to situational factors while attributing behaviors of others to internal factors. Put simply, we see our behaviors as a reflection of a situation but perceive others behave a certain way because that’s who they are. This bias causes behavioral problems to surface in two ways, 1) biased employees see their decisions and behaviors as the only option, rather than a choice, and 2) biased employees subscribe to the idea that only bad people do bad things. Because someone doesn’t see himself as bad a person, he is incapable of doing bad things and as such, his behaviors are justified. Think of an employee who is frequently late or absent. Does she always have a reason? Does she seem to feel you too should excuse her absence –as though she had no choice but to be late or miss the day? A person harassing others, although clearly a more serious offense, often does not recognize himself as a harasser. Because the person doing the harassing believes the person he is harassing either wants or deserves the unwanted attention, he typically feels his behavior is justified. Ironically, the harasser is often the most offended by harassing behavior demonstrated by others, seeing other harassers as bad people rather than people engaging in harassing behavior (2 Reasons Your Harassment Training is Failing). Research suggests this bias occurs less often with people we know well – most likely due to exposure. We see ourselves, behaviors, and decisions as a reflection of situations and the more familiar we are with situations faced by others, the more we recognize that most of us are neither all good nor all bad. Self-awareness allows us to see ourselves objectively, recognizing the impact our decisions have on others – and that every decision is a choice. So, next time you’re forced to address an employee’s excessive absences or tardiness, ask him, “do you feel that everyone else that makes it in on time for work has it easy? Do you feel they do not have extenuating circumstances that they must manage in order to get to work?” This question can be a game changer in addressing similar behavioral issues. With more serious behaviors like harassing others or insubordination, it’s important to focus on how the employee’s behavior impacts others – and how the behavior is not in line with the company’s values or culture. When behavior issues are deliberate such as theft, fraud, or harassing behavior that’s hostile, manipulative, or calculated, it is very unlikely the leopard will change his spots. There is always a chance that a person engaging in scheming and cunning behavior will change for the better; however, this is a decision she will make on her own. No punishment, threat, or training will change the behavior and in many situations the person will only use warnings to behave poorly in a more conspicuous way. It is up to each company and leader to find the right balance of forgiveness and accountability. People will make mistakes and poor choices – to what extent you, as a leader, are willing to accept the harm those mistakes and poor choices brings to you, your company, and employees, is a choice you must make.
It would be great if we all just got it. If we all saw our behaviors and decisions as choices and possessed the self-awareness to see how we impact others. The reality is, we are flawed. There is no such thing as a perfect person and therefore cannot be a perfect employee, or leader. A successful workplace culture isn’t about perfection. A successful culture is about a group of unique individuals coming together to achieve a common purpose. So the key is establishing a common set of values and then communicating, upholding, and delivering on those values relentlessly – addressing when actions or behaviors deviate from what benefits the group, as a whole, or their collective purpose. Strong and healthy workplaces have behavioral issues. They only differ from toxic workplaces in how leaders respond to those issues. Address the behaviors harming your company’s culture today because it’s the only way you will ever achieve your purpose.
Watch our tutorial on how to address employee behavioral issues here.
What is the one thing worse than having an employee fail to meet your expectations? Talking with that employee about it – that is worse. It’s uncomfortable. Today one of the most common issues plaguing workplaces is our unwillingness, or in some cases unfamiliarity, of having difficult discussions. These discussions, when done well however, elevate a business. When talking about performance issues with employees, there are seven key components that make it an effective conversation.
7 Tips to Navigating Employee Performance Discussions
A Gallup study shows employees are largely dissatisfied with both the amount and accuracy of the feedback they receive from their manager. While historically performance discussions were limited to annual reviews, recent trends lean toward more frequent conversations such as biweekly or monthly. Whether annually or biweekly, there are steps every leader should take to ensure it’s a quality conversation.
Determine whether it’s a trend, indicating a performance issue or an isolated incident.
Particularly if you subscribe to less frequent performance discussions, it’s important to address trends differently than isolated incidents. While isolated incidents can be damaging to companies and frustrating to managers, they do happen, to all of us. When talking with an employee about an isolated incidentfocus the discussion on how to avoid the situation from reoccurring. When discussing trends, work with the employee to identify what skill or knowledge gap is causing the ongoing issue.
While there may be times you choose to have a third-party present, meetings should take place in a quiet, private setting so as to respect the dignity for the employee. Performance conversations are humbling. The two worst things to bring into a performance discussion are a big ego and a chip on your shoulder – and they tend to accompany public shaming. Leave the praising to public settings.
Sometimes an employee may not recognize the impact her performance issues have on the business. It’s therefore important to express your observations from a place of concern rather than frustration. If you really believe a person is intentionally coming to work each day to do a bad job, you have a “will” issue, not a skill issue.
Ask, don’t tell.
You may be an expert on the operational process or role but we as self-aware individuals are the experts of our own thoughts and behaviors. So even if you believe you know what the employee is struggling with, it’s better to ask the employee why he is struggling rather than diagnose. If Joe is not meeting sales goals, ask him why. But keep him honest. If Joe says he’s just having a tough month and he’s actually having his sixth consecutive tough month, respectfully remind him. Hold him accountable to his own behavior and self-awareness.
Collaborate on a solution.
Both you as the leader, and the employee should want the same thing – success. When the employee is successful, you’re one-step closer to a successful company. Performance discussions often become combative, which makes no sense whatsoever. A leader doesn’t ask an underperforming employee why she is struggling to corner her. A leader asks for the employee’s insight to empower her, a critical first step on the path of improvement. You, as the leader, should push back on phony, surface-level reasons given by the employee such as “just having a bad month”. This is not to be confrontational, but because you are genuinely interested in helping the employee develop professionally, and overcome challenges contributing to her poor performance.
Get buy-in by asking about concerns.
We all love to have people agree with us – but in situations like performance discussions, it’s a bad sign. Bad habits and skill gaps do not happen accidentally. Gaps worsen over time because we dislike or undervalue the importance of overcoming them. So, because conquering performance issues often requires hard work on the part of the employee (training, practicing, stepping out of his/her comfort zone, etc), it’s only natural that the employee will have some anxiety about the process. Yes, natural. A person telling you what you want to hear, a “yes man”, doesn’t bother to consider concerns. A yes man is simply looking to appease you, putting an end to the conversation. If the employee doesn’t express concerns, do it for him. Ask him, in a variety of ways about how he will handle potential setbacks. If you and the employee decide training will resolve the performance issue, ask what concerns the employee has about adding training to his already heavy workload. “Do you feel 2-3 hours of training each week is doable given your upcoming projects and deadlines?” Failing to plan is planning to fail, so work with the employee to resolve conflicts proactively. This too is an important part of earning an employee’s trust that you, as their leader, care about their success.
So, you have a great discussion, identify what is needed to resolve the issue and the issue seems to resolve itself! Wrong. Its the employee who worked to resolve the issue. I guarantee, no matter who the employee is, she is waiting for you, their leader, to acknowledge it. The same can be said for when the issue continues although the waiting is coupled with anxiety. Set a reminder in your phone, calendar, or schedule a meeting to revisit with the employee. Recognize the employee’s efforts when the issue is resolved. If the performance issue persists, assess why the solution you and the employee developed failed to resolve the problem. Without the follow up, regardless of the outcome, the performance discussion you had with the employee is a failure. She may be a better performer, but without the follow-up, the perception is, you only care about the business, not the individuals within it. It’s a fair-weather relationship, at best when a leader fails to recognize the collective “employees” as individuals.
Yes, it’s work. Yes, it would be great if employees just knew how to improve without these awkward interactions. But, we as people are complex. Think of someone that took the time to help you to become better. Was he genuinely concerned about your well-being or were his motives self-serving? Was she there to celebrate with you when you succeeded? Relationships take work and, like anything, it’s the things we work on that hold value. Have the difficult performance discussion today and start holding your people accountable to their greater self. A good performance discussion reminds us of what we’re capable of becoming.
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