While discussing managing poor performance during a client training session a few months ago, the Managing Director acknowledged that she had a lot of trouble keeping her emotions in check when confronting employees and could fly off the handle quite easily. This proved to be especially problematic early in her career as she'd often react to situations impulsively, only to find later that she'd done so unnecessarily because she didn't have all the facts. As a result it killed her ability to communicate effectively with these employees.

As she rose into more senior positions, the MD became more and more aware of the damage she often caused by prematurely confronting and decided to force some discipline on herself by buffering her reaction: every time she felt the need to confront an employee, she first wrote down her thoughts and how she would handle the situation, collected more information, slept on it and made a final decision on what action to take the next day. And when she started doing this, she found that the way she felt the following day – with time to gain perspective by collecting all the facts and gathering her thoughts – was often completely different than how she felt the first day.

The additional time the MD afforded herself before acting allowed her to process two items. First, she could ensure that she was addressing a job-related problem and wasn't making it personal, which can often happen when reacting without keeping emotions in check. Only with job-related problems can you redirect behaviour, a crucial element to confronting poor performance. Second, with more time to collect the facts, she sometimes would realise that there was no need to confront at all or that the problem stemmed from someone else's actions, and that she needed to confront them!

At Fortune we often say, "catch it early or condone it"; in other words, you must confront poor performance immediately or employees will read your lack of action to mean you condone whatever they're doing. But an absolutely critical precursor to doing so is to make sure you confront without anger. You may well feel angry; it's even okay in your discussion with them to say "You did such and such and it made me angry, or frustrated, or concerned." What you can't do is act out your anger. And the case of this MD is a perfect example: the perspective she afforded herself with this extra time ensured she could more maturely address the real problem – that it was truly job-related and not personal – and that she had all the necessary facts.

Posted: 28/09/2010 9:52:56 PM by Andy Klein | with 0 comments
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I recently came across a survey, Managing Reward Risks: An Integrated Approach, which has found that there is growing unease amongst HR professionals in the UK regarding how their organisations reward employees. Says Charles Cotton, performance and reward adviser of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD): "The past 12 months have been a turbulent time for many employers in terms of pay and benefits practice. They are fearful that the way that reward helps them attract, retain and motivate their employees is no longer appropriate."

Reading this study, I couldn't help but think of what Steve Brown wrote about motivating employees in his management classic 13 Fatal Errors Managers Make: "In all of industrial history, we have developed only three approaches for getting employees to produce more. Every motivational scheme falls into one of these three broader categories: fear, rewards and belief building."

Drawing on the management experience of hundreds of thousands of client managers, Steve finishes this proposition by advocating only one of the three tactics, but before I get to that, an anecdote on managing with fear:

A past client (let's call him Sam) once told us about a trainer he brought in to work with his team. This was several decades earlier – an era with a very different workplace culture. Working with the entire team on the very first day, the trainer asked Sam how he would confront a poorly performing employee. Sam started to give what he felt was a reasonable response: "Well, I'd pull them aside and try to find out..."

With Sam in the middle of his thought, and without any warning, the trainer leaned over the table, grabbed Sam by the scruff of his shirt, pulled him across the table, threw him to the floor and said, "That's how you confront!"

Clearly this was a different age, to be sure. But now or then, I think you can guess whether or not we'd recommend this form of motivation!

Putting fear aside, of the other two motivational approaches to growing employee engagement and productivity that Steve identified – rewards and belief building – Steve continues the proposition cited above by promoting the latter, saying, "Only belief building will give you long-term productivity."

On the face of it, rewards are an enticing tactic to further motivate your employees. As evidenced in a recent L.E.A.D survey by Leadership Management Australasia, the number one characteristic for an 'employer of choice' was that they recognise and reward staff well! But they're also an easy way out, too often a band-aid that buys your organisation only short-term results, measured literally in weeks. So to those HR professionals reading CIPD's study, we recommend that you spend less time thinking about rewards and devote more time to whether or not your managers at all levels are equipped to build belief amongst your employees. Belief in the organisation, belief in what it can do for its customers and shareholders and belief in themselves and the contribution they make.

Posted: 21/09/2010 7:18:08 PM by Andy Klein | with 1 comments
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If it has never occurred to you that confronting poor performance can be both enjoyable and productive, you're far from being alone. Sadly, the common perception is that it has to be a tense, gut-wrenching experience for manager and employee alike.

Properly done, confronting a poor performing employee is an enjoyable experience – seriously! But the key to thinking of it this way is to flip our definition on its head.

For too many managers, they "confront poor performance" when an employee's actions have become pronounced or they're negatively impacting others. But when you wait that long to address any situation, behaviours have often been set, lines have been drawn in the sand and you're guaranteed an uphill, potentially painful battle to redirect your employee's actions.

That's not confronting poor performance; that's confronting fatal performance.

In reality, confronting poor performance, part of the larger process of managing poor performance, is about addressing an issue with an employee at the very first sign of a behaviour problem. Not confronting early can actually appear to be condoning the problem. This comes with two critical points of clarification:

  1. "Poor performance" can be the seemingly smallest thing in the world. The point is, you want to "nip it in the bud" quickly before the employee believes their behaviour is okay and before it becomes a larger problem.
  2. Don't think of "confronting" in the uncomfortable, stressful context that society associates with it. Instead, it should happen informally, without hardly any pretext, whether that be at the water cooler, over a coffee or just in the hallway. Confronting an issue can be done very quickly!

When you start to think of confronting poor performance in this way, and address problems immediately, you'll find that the need to "confront" is dramatically reduced; in its place, you're simply coaching. And that's the critical point: Effective confrontation of poor performance is regular coaching.

No one relishes confronting, at least not in the common sense of the word. But as managers, we all need to coach. It's an opportunity to develop your employees, to create a more positive working environment, to improve team productivity, to improve the bottom line. And when you start getting these outcomes, you're going love confronting poor performance.

Posted: 15/09/2010 10:04:38 PM by Andy Klein | with 0 comments
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In the latest edition of the Fortune Roundup, we have posts from a variety of perspectives: an HR professional, a sales management guru and a few leadership experts. Enjoy!

Working With Jake-The-Jerk And More Lessons From Marshall Goldsmith
By Jess Booth of HR Club Sydney
Marshall Goldsmith's twenty bad habits of a leader, as outlined in his book "What you've got here won't get you there", can be quite instructive for leaders and managers of any kind. Jess brings a few points from this list to life by recounting some experiences with an old boss, aka "Jake The Jerk". If you've ever wanted to know exactly how to disengage your staff as quickly as possible, look no further than Jake!

Promoting Your Best Salesrep to Manager? Not So Fast...
By Dave Stein of Commentary on Sales Leadership
All too often top performers are promoted into management without any regard as to whether they possess management skills, which can have serious negative consequences on the employee and business alike. Dave offers an illustrative example of a company that could have rushed down this same path with a top salesperson but instead took the intermediate step of training him on the responsibilities of the management position and providing him with the support to develop the necessary skills. Dave ends with a few tips for both top performers and senior executives to consider when an employee is looking to join management.

How To Love Your Mistakes (In 4 Easy Steps)
By Terry Starbucker of Ramblings From A Glass Half Full
We've written here in the past about why you must embrace failure in order to grow, and implicit in this idea is that you must learn from these failures, or mistakes. In this post, Terry breaks down how you can do this in four simple steps. Neglect any of these, and you'll be sure to not only repeat the mistakes of your past, but inhibit your future personal and professional growth.

Hearing What Isn't Said
By Dan Rockwell of Leadership Freak
Expanding on another topic we've covered in the past, the importance of non-verbal communication, Dan provides a list of three ways to hear what isn't said: hear intent, hear assumptions and hear non-verbals. Some very valuable thoughts, which can be applied in any profession.

Finally, for a huge list of some great reading on leadership development, head over to the September Leadership Development Carnival, hosted by Dan McCarthy of Great Leadership. You'll find a wide variety of perspectives from some of the best leadership bloggers, including our post on leadership of employee creativity.

Posted: 12/09/2010 10:53:04 PM by Andy Klein | with 0 comments
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A new study from organisational development firm Human Synergistics suggests that about two-thirds of Australian managers display alarmingly low levels of self-awareness, meaning there is a disconnect between the skills they believe they possess and those that they actually do. Left unaddressed, this can have profound, negative effects on individual and organisational performance.

As Quentin Jones, Managing Director of Human Synergistics says, "The challenge lies in being brutally honest with one-self, taking that first step in becoming aware of your faults, and although it is the hardest reality a leader can face, it will be the driver of change throughout the entire organisation."

In tandem with decreased levels of employee engagement across Australian businesses, this research has significant implications for leaders at every level. As a frontline manager, how honest are you being with yourself? Do you believe your perception of your skills matches reality? And as a senior manager, what steps have you taken to ensure that your frontline managers have received the support and training necessary to obtain and retain the skills necessary to effectively manage their people and teams?

Posted: 8/09/2010 7:57:05 PM by Andy Klein | with 0 comments
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