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  • Teresa Carey

Struggling Over How To Address A Performance Issue? This Simple Solution May Surprise You

Updated: May 5, 2022

Taylor is a talented team member who’s missing the mark. You thought you’d laid out expectations for the role and the targets for success were crystal clear. Yet, there’s one area in which she’s underperforming. You start self-negotiating and get stuck. After all, she’s more than adept in most areas. Job candidates within her area of expertise are limited and you don’t want her to leave. Maybe you should wait to see if it improves?

It’s a much too familiar scenario.

What SHOULDN’T you do? Here are some key mistakes leaders make that can interfere with managing the issue correctly:

Mistake #1: Talk with everyone else about the issue but the person involved. In his book Principles, Ray Dalio is emphatic about taking the problem only to the person involved. It’s forbidden to even mention it to anyone else unless you’ve talked with the person first. Otherwise, it can be undermining, creating an environment of co-dependency and mistrust.

Mistake #2: Let it go, otherwise known as “stockpiling.” As soon an undesired instance occurs, or as a pattern of underperformance develops, have a coaching conversation immediately. Allowing the issue to continue for weeks or months sets an unwanted precedent for reinforcing the wrong behaviors, and it blindsides the person once you’re ready to tackle the problem.

Mistake #3: Hiring a coach to “fix it.” If it’s a performance management issue, it should be addressed and managed internally by the person’s leader. Only the leader inside the organization can hold the person accountable to the requirements of the role. The coach certainly can’t solve alone what the leader isn’t willing to.

What SHOULD you do? Here are steps a leader should take to address underperformance:

Acknowledge the issue won’t get better without the right feedback. The “do nothing” approach isn’t a viable option. Once a pattern of behavior is repeated as the norm, disruption has to occur for it to get better. A recent Gallup survey revealed employees who receive daily feedback from their manager are three times more likely to be engaged than those who receive feedback annually.

Have an honest conversation. Some leaders I work with seem hesitant to do this because they’re not sure about the best approach. In this brief Ted educational video, LeeAnn Renninger shares a four-step proven formula for giving feedback well. It can start with what she calls a “micro yes question.” The goal is to ask a simple question that helps to gain agreement. After the issue(s) surface, you can dig into specific examples, ask what’s causing the gap, and offer the needed resources.

Commit to regular feedback and meetings with each direct report and create a coaching culture for continued improvement. The reason some organizations have abandoned annual reviews is because it can create a void in more regular bi-weekly or monthly communication. If only given annually, feedback may show up too late in the game for course correction. By this point the person is not only underperforming, but likely unhappy, unengaged, and the team is underwhelmed with or overwhelmed from their lack of meaningful and measurable contribution.

Dealing with a performance issue?

Here’s what we know. Everyone inherently wants to do well. We’re hardwired to want to know when we’re not. As leaders, if we’re not providing honest, timely and necessary truth to our team members, we’re not owning an imperative piece of leadership.

What do you need to start doing differently to create a new approach to providing performance feedback and coaching? The three-pronged solution above provides a win/win solution for success.

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