5 Keys to Unlock Better Performance

Performance management. Ugh. No one likes it. Employees hate it and managers do too.

It rarely goes well. It sucks up a ton of time and creates an extraordinary amount of stress, which impacts us on a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual level. Did I mention…...Ugh?

In an ideal world, there would be little need for performance management. Why can’t we all come in, do our jobs and do them well and then go home? I mean, we are all adults, right?

We live in a world far from ideal. And even if we did, this notion is a fairytale. Fairytale thinking isn’t going to help us manage performance any better.

What’s going to help us manage performance better is to understand and call out the dynamics that are at play. Every business has its own culture or set of norms in how people behave. There are different “rules of engagement” that apply to each business.

Have you ever gone to a game night where a new game was introduced? What typically happens is that for the folks unfamiliar with the game, someone describes the rules and how the game is played. The individual decides to play the game based on if they would enjoy playing that game as it was described.

Working for a company isn’t much different. During the hiring process both players determine if they’d like to engage in a game together. Except for that when it comes to the workplace, we don’t even acknowledge that these cultural rules exist, let alone actually discuss what they are in detail.

Currently, few workplaces go into any depth about what the rules of engagement are like. The conversations that are had are very basic. They usually talk about the duties of the position, the past experience of the candidate and maybe some surface level conversation about what it’s like to work there.

This is exactly the place where we need to change how business is being done.

We need to have deeper conversations about the things that really matter when you work together such as:

  • Candidate’s learning style and how training is delivered

  • Communication style of candidate, manager, other relevant team members and overall organization

  • How individuals are expected to engage with each other

  • What’s the expectation when someone makes a mistake?

  • What’s the expectation regarding taking risks?

  • The values of the candidate, manager and organization

Not only do these topics need to be discussed during the interview process, but they need to be reaffirmed all throughout the onboarding process and beyond. What’s more, is that the organization needs to live up to the values and expectations that are being espoused.

This leads us back to performance management. When staff are not living up to the expectations, it needs to be addressed. The challenge is to be able to address it in a way that actually produces your desired outcome without feeling like or being an asshole.

Most leaders will procrastinate when it comes to having these conversations for a variety of good reasons such as:

1. Not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings or be a jerk.

2. Not knowing how to approach the situation or get started

3. Not knowing what to say.

At the end of the day, all of these good reasons are really a clever disguise for the real reason -- avoiding being uncomfortable and being uncertain of the outcome.

Great leadership doesn’t come from staying in the shallow end of the pool, in your comfort zone. Great leadership comes from jumping into the deep end of commitment to greatness, followed by humble service to elevating yourself and those around you with a willingness to get it wrong and learn from it.

Great leaders will motivate and inspire greatness from others. Their teams stay committed much longer than the average employment turnover. Great leaders have to have less performance management conversations because they attract, develop and retain high performing employees. When they do have these conversations, it’s a natural and normal part of doing business. NBD.

So, would you rather be a mediocre leader who has to deal with issues and problems all the time or a great leader?

Here are 5 Keys to Managing Performance, written for leaders on the path to greatness, by approaching managing performance as a true partner in success:

Key # 1 Get curious and go back to basics.

Does your staff know what’s expected of them? How do you know that they know that? Unless you’ve heard it come out of their own mouth, don’t assume they know just because you’ve told them. If you are unsatisfied with someone’s performance, check for understanding of the expectation whether it’s clients in the door or sweeping the floor.

Question to ask: “What is your understanding of XYZ responsibilities?”

Check your Being: Don’t come off as being condescending or a sarcastic. Do be genuinely curious about what their understanding is. Get specific and dive beneath the surface talk.

Key # 2 Inquire to the block

Once they have demonstrated adequate understanding of the expectation, get curious about what’s stopping them achieving the desired result.

Question to ask: “What’s getting in the way of accomplishing XYZ?”

Check your Being: Be a genuine partner in their success. Be open to what they may reveal to you. Affirm that it’s safe for them to be honest and transparent with you. Newer staff often can give you a great deal of insight of the realities of the work environment you may be blind to.

Key #3 Create Movement

Now that you have a common understanding of what is expected and know what’s getting in the way, it’s time to remove the obstacle so they can start gaining traction towards success.

Question to ask: “What do you need in order to achieve XYZ?”

Check your Being: For external obstacles -- Put on your SuperBoss cape, the distress signal has been activated! Be committed to removing their obstacle for them. Your job is to make their job easier and more enjoyable.

For internal obstacles -- Be compassionate to the situation and offer resources that are available. You may have an EAP to refer them to if it’s a personal issue. If it’s a mindset issue you may refer them to a coach or spend more time with them to mentor or teach them valuable tools. If it’s a skillset issue, you need to assess if they are suited for the position.

Either way, movement has to happen, it’s just a matter of how quickly by when.

Key #4 Contribute to the solution

Their problem is your problem. Recognize that in some way, you’ve likely contributed to the problem. Don’t underestimate your leadership superpowers, there’s probably a lot you could do to help create a better situation.

Question to ask: “What can I do to help?”

Check your Being: Be willing to go above and beyond to help your team member be successful as long as they are also willing to rise to the challenge. Model the definition of team.

Key #5 Looking forward to the future

This is where you reset and establish new rules of engagement. Collaboratively create a plan of action including milestones and check in points. Agree to the expectations around communication and accountability to the plan. At the end, have each person recap their action items and timelines with the other person listening to make sure everything discussed was recapped.

Questions to ask: “Do you feel like you are set up for success? Does this plan feel achievable to you?”

Check your Being: Be a true teammate and partner, equally invested in their success. You might just be the first leader to ever do so. Oh, the rewards you’ll reap!

So there you have it. Five Keys to Managing Performance without being an asshole, written for leaders on the path to greatness. Give these 5 simple keys a try and let me know how it goes!

If you liked this article and are looking for more resources when it comes to building your leadership skills, check out my latest free resource Ask, Don’t Tell: Better Questions for Better Results Perfect for the leader who is frustrated that they keep telling their people what to do and they still aren’t doing it.

In Service To Your Greatness,

Aubrey Armes

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