- Knowledge Centre

Five Tips For Better Performance Management

Performance management can be one of the trickiest parts of the manager’s role, and certainly one of the most disliked. Not many people do it well, and that’s no surprise, as new managers are rarely trained on how to prepare for, or successfully initiate, an uncomfortable conversation. Talking to a colleague about areas in which their performance is not up to standard is understandably awkward, especially if that colleague is a former peer. In fact, oftentimes this awkwardness is overcome only if emotions are running so high that the conversation ends up as an attack – which is far worse in the long run than enduring an awkward conversation.

Why is effective performance management necessary?

Though a reluctance towards having a difficult conversation is understandable, problems arise when managers allow this to stop them having these necessary conversations at all. There are many reasons that managers abdicate responsibility for performance managing their team: fear that the conversation may go wrong and result in the situation worsening, discomfort with addressing an issue seemingly accepted by previous managers, worry that former peers may negatively change their attitude towards them. Perhaps they convince themselves that the problem isn’t really that important after all, and does not need addressing.

All these reasons feel valid to the manager in the moment, but they are truly only excuses to justify abdication of responsibility. But managers are expected (and paid) to deliver value for the organisation through effective management of people and projects, so when the effectiveness of their team and the quality of their outputs suffer because these necessary conversations are missed, they themselves are failing to perform to their organisation’s expected standards.

Often, problems in the workplace stem not from what is said, but what is not said. If there is no feedback given to an individual, they cannot improve, so the issue remains – or gets worse. Any behaviour that strays outside the organisation’s boundaries, whether it be a case of conduct, quality, communication, or something else, becomes accepted by default if the manager does not address it effectively. Failing to deal with an underperformer within a team is a sure way to destroy the morale of the more engaged team members, and for the manager to lose their respect – particularly if the issue is one of attitude or personal impact.

How can I improve my performance management skills?

  • Take the time to understand the problem: A herd of elephants will adjust their pace to allow the slowest member of their group to keep up. This way, all remain safe and supported. Unfortunately, humans don’t have that luxury, especially not in the workplace where we may have to juggle numerous different projects, priorities, and deadlines. Slowing down to accommodate your team’s weakest member may not be viable, but what can you do to help them speed up? Taking a moment to slow down in order to ensure you fully understand the problem and its possible solutions will reap rewards where a hasty or misinformed fix risks causing costly complications.

  • Reframe your thinking: If we expect a certain situation to make us feel uncomfortable, our brain automatically tries to think of ways to avoid this discomfort – usually by coming up with excuses to get out of the situation entirely. Instead of focusing on the potential awkwardness of a performance management meeting, see it as an opportunity. Think ‘how can I make the recipient want to listen? How do I help them understand the issue?’ Instead of thinking ‘this could go wrong,’ think ‘how can I ensure this goes well?’ Remember that by bringing an issue to a team member’s attention, you are helping them develop and improve – not doing so would rob them of this opportunity.

  • Consider your desired outcome: Begin with the end in mind – what do you want to achieve from this conversation? Once you have your desired outcome in mind, you can focus your approach around that. Though it is important that a manager is assertive in a performance management situation, always remember that the intention is to inform, educate, and invite a positive response from the recipient, whether that be a particular action, commitment, or something else.

  • Make the purpose clear: Receiving feedback on one’s performance is a productive way to improve one’s skills, but is often seen as a ‘telling off’ – by both recipient AND manager. Starting off a conversation with this frame of mind can make a recipient feel defensive and less able to take on board any of their manager’s concerns. Make it clear at the start of the conversation that this meeting is for them – not at them. Help them understand why the organisation’s boundaries and standards exist, how they have strayed from them, and what support is available to help them improve their performance. If the meeting is seen as a productive, collaborative one by both parties, it eliminates the awkwardness so many managers fear.

  • Make boundaries clear from the start: It’s a cliché, but it’s true: prevention is better than cure. The best way to address performance issues is to stop them from happening in the first place. Do this by ensuring all staff know the organisation’s boundaries regarding conduct, communication, productivity, efficiency, and any other relevant measures. This won’t prevent all problems, but it will ensure all members of your team have a good level of awareness of what is expected of them.

it all starts with a chat.

When will be good for you?