Addressing Under Performance

It seems that last week I hit a nerve with my Blog Article “You set the Culture“. It seems a vast amount of business owners are facing performance & attitude issues with their employees and team members and many seem at a loss as how to address such issues.

Every business needs not only a positive culture (as discussed last week) but also requires every team member within the business to feel they are accountable to others around them and who understand their responsibilities and feel obligated to deliver. Granted, it is easier said than done, but that does not mean that it is impossible and that we should not strive to achieve it.

So through today’s article, I hope that I can give you some insights as how you can address attitude & performance issues….in a healthy and constructive manner. There is an element of positive and negative reinforcement that can be used to have someone perform better, however such methods are always short lived. The challenge is to create a culture of accountability and high performance using persuasion and not fear or constant incentives. Normally persuasion rests on the skillful use of empathy and compassion. I said “skillful use” on purpose. The use of empathy and compassion has to be inline with the situation at hand – you use it too much and you lose the right balance between accountability and compassion & empathy. So here are some steps that can help you achieve that balance.

  • Set Clear Expectations: It all starts with creating clear and shared expectations. Many business owners do the common mistake of skipping this step. They think that they can save time by not having an open discussion from the very start of what is expected out of each team member, whilst answering questions on the expected performance. Missing such a step always results in then having to deal with outputs and performance which are way below the mark, forcing you to intervene after your employees have invested time and energy, which can be demoralising for team members, not to mention inefficient. Setting clear expectations through proper, direct and clear initial communication is a sure way to foster a culture of accountability. Instead I many times see business owners, wasting time in creating a culture of name calling, which is usually linked to the fact that someone’s under performance is due to not having had the expectations made clear to him or her, from the very start.
  • Help everyone maintain focus: The next step is to make sure that you keep everyone’s attention focused on the progress and way forward. To achieve this you need to make sure that everyone on the team has visibility on the progress (or lack of it) and the path forward. Giving this visibility is another way to enhance accountability. To achieve this visibility, business leaders need to invest time to communicate and communicate and communicate, through one-to-one meetings and team meetings and also use these as an opportunity to address any concerns or looming issues. Such efforts would also communicate to all that you are keeping track of progress (and lack of it) and hence things are not being left without overview.
  • Create Psychological Safety: Regardless of how precisely you set expectations and how well you communicate and give visibility to help team members monitor progress – perfection is unachievable. So as part of the process in creating a culture of accountability is that of creating a psychologically safe space for employees to share their struggles and failures. When employees feel that total success or perfection is the only acceptable way, they will likely reject accountability. It comes with too much risk and the expectations go beyond what is humanely possible. You want your team members to feel it is safe for them to share their difficulties, giving you the opportunity to guide them towards a clear understanding of the problem and a set of viable solutions. However you need to achieve a balance here also – Guiding employees is helpful, while solving their problems erodes accountability rather than strengthening it, because it teaches your employees that they don’t have to be accountable because you will be coming to the rescue. The secret is acknowledging their difficulties, giving them any guidance, while demonstrating that you’re confident that they can deliver.
  • Be a Coach, Not a Micromanager: You need to balance between not dictating to your employees how they should complete their tasks, whilst still giving them guidance that would help them. You need to make sure that such guidance comes in a series of minor course corrections rather than a whole load of “everything you did is wrong”. As you coach each employee, your primary responsibility is to guide their attention rather than dictate how they should work. Ask questions that allow them to interrogate their approach and teach them to spot their own assumptions or to play out alternate scenarios. Help them see the unintended impacts of their approach.
  • Use Consequences to Help them Learn: Consequences are a fundamental part of learning. It is far better (and should be used most often) to use examples of beneficial, constructive behaviours that have led to positive consequences, to reinforce a lesson and gain a positive learning experience for your employees. However, when necessary, using negative consequences can also deliver important lessons, whereby such negative consequences can be escalated when you don’t see a change in an employee’s behaviour. In such instances you need to also use compassion when the person’s disappointment and discomfort are already a negative consequence and no further negative consequences are needed.
  • When All else Fails then allow for a Graceful Exit: As a business leader you need to understand that sometimes the kindest thing you can do is release someone who isn’t performing. That’s because teams have social dynamics, and once an individual has lost your confidence, it becomes too difficult for anyone to recover from that. In that situation, it’s best to channel your compassion into helping the person make a graceful exit and supporting them as they look for a new role.

Achieving a culture that promotes an attitude of accountability and high performance requires a lot of work. It is based on a tricky balance that requires a winning formula to have healthy, productive and high performing teams.

The  Business Reality Check, a holistic service offered by EMCS, includes professional assistance to assess the operations and management of a business to address wrong attitudes and under performance.  Click HERE to review what the Business Reality Check is made of.

Feel free to contact me on to ask any questions.

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