In the wake of the tragic Amtrak derailment, development that could have prevented such loss is a valuable focus. Your off-track performance issues in the employees you lead could most certainly result in far smaller loss of life and equipment, but is something being ignored that might prevent a larger issue in your workplace? How do you manage performance and skills that is only slightly off track now, but could lead to much bigger problems in the future? These three steps to manage off-track performance and coach a current poor performer will prevent many looming and potentially large employee performance problems.
Ensure Clear Objectives
The average manager has an aversion to micromanagement and what is perceived to be babysitting, but what most don’t realize is that their understanding of the objectives is not as clear as they assume it is for the employee. What do you want the employee to do…exactly? How do you want them to do it? Why do you want them to do it? Once you have this conversation, how much follow up do you provide? Many a high potential performing employee PREFERS to develop very specialized skills in one area. Many PREFER to follow. Not everyone has a desire to lead so assuming that an employee “gets” what you get and has the same level of initiative to figure it out without you sharing explicit detail, is a mistake.
Uncover Conflicts of Interest
While developing one of our newest leadership training webinars on How to Coach a Poor Performer, I ran across a number of cartoons that depict conflicts of interest. One shows an automobile production line with crashed cars and a caption from the employee addressing the manager that reads: “but you told me explicitly to NEVER stop the production line!” What do you tell employee,s that might be in conflict with what you consider to be common sense? Yes, go quickly, and stay on schedule, and ensure you get your result on time, may have been valid directions for the train conductor who took a 50 mile an hour curve at 102 miles per hour, but was there the direction of passenger and train safety that was implied, assumed, and never addressed? Do you tell employees to sell their quota without fail, but fail to share guidance on giving deep discounts, providing excessive free incentives, avoiding unethical bribes or quid pro quo exchanges? Do you tell pizza delivery drivers to get there in 30 minutes without exception, but forget to tell them NOT to wreck their car in the process? Uncover the conflicts in your unwritten rules and stated directions and state them more clearly to avoid a problem.
Develop a Repeatable Process
All managers are busy. All leaders are going a million miles an hour. They attempt to multi-task to get it all done and easily forget what they’ve done or assigned, the moment it leaves their list. We’re all moving FAST, so our engrained habits will prevail. What are your consistent habits of employee development? Do you have any? Do you meet with them weekly, have monthly check-ins, timely touch base meetings, Monday huddles or some other consistent pattern of behavior? Without this, a manager will address an issue only when it’s on fire, hits the news, or becomes a colossal issue? Not unlike we only take care of our bodies when we realize they’re sick. Not unlike we only seek out healthy eating when we realize we weigh too much. Not unlike we only schedule vacations when corporate tells us we have to use the time or we lose the time. Why wait? Why develop employees only when it’s essentially too late. The amount of effort you put forth in proactive development of skills for the employees you lead may never reveal the problems you’ve avoided. This is a GOOD thing. Start now with the development of repeatable, consistent habits that in the rush of day to day leadership you will do without thinking and in turn prevent problems without being forced later on to conduct a campaign of damage control.
Whether the performance of those employees you lead is guided by your human resource department, your boss, or you, it pays to put forth more than an ounce of preventative medicine. What you do as a leader is contagious and ignoring issues is no exception. Infect and infuse team members with a dose of development on a regular basis that is free from confusion, filled with clarity and void of conflicts of interest, delivered in a reliable and regular manner and the work you do as a leader will seem to throw you far less curves.