As leaders of people, one of the most disliked elements of our roles is that of disciplinary action.
Angelo Azar gives his top tips for dealing with performance management.
I’m sure we all agree that it would be much simpler if all of our employees understood what was expected and delivered on those expectations. The challenge with that concept when we overlay reality onto it is that we often treat disciplinary action, or the broader concept of performance management, as an afterthought.
Performance management can often only be discussed when low performance or poor behaviour becomes evident in the work environment. This further fuels the stigma that performance management is a negative responsibility which encourages staff to avoid it altogether, as the easier thing to do.
In order for leaders to make performance management a living and breathing element of their environment, we must make it a part of the overall mantra of our workplace. These tips may help in doing so.
1. Set clear expectations
From the moment that staff are brought into the work environment through the recruitment process, set clear expectations that performance is monitored, and provide insight into the reasons why. These might include to increase shareholder return, to ensure continual support to our employees or to provide awareness of our opportunities.
2. Unified goal setting
To encourage ownership of objectives, the most effective means has been proven to be through setting goals together. Ensure that performance appraisals (as an example) are created right from the outset of employment and that the goals set in the appraisal are not directed, but mutually created. If expectations have been set appropriately and there is an understanding of the purpose of your business, then employees will be able to contribute to their assigned goals in reaching those expectations.
3. Encourage accountability
A loose term used in many work environments is that of ‘accountability’. We can often make the mistake of assuming that since we request it, it will be accepted.
Setting goals together with employees helps to support accountability. However, continued sharing of monitored performance with the purpose of encouragement will further solidify that commitment.
Encouraging accountability can be made a lot simpler by creating routines where employees monitor their own performance and have clear visibility of how they are tracking in as timely a manner as possible.
4. Recognise positive performance
Often the most forgotten people in our work environment are those that are delivering to expectation.
The most effective tool in our arsenal is that of positive reinforcement.
Make it a priority to recognise those individuals who are achieving on expectations and also those who have made considerable improvement on reaching them. This recognition of positive performance will encourage employees to continue performing as they know it is being noticed.
5. Make consensual, consistent decisions
A major part of making performance management important to the everyday work environment is make consistent decisions.
Working with people, it can be difficult to be totally objective, as the situations presented to us aren’t always so easily distinguished. For this reason, allow decision making to be part of the responsibilities of the broader team.
Share situations with the leadership team as a discipline and ensure that there are objective reasons for making critical decisions which have impacts on people.
6. Provide leadership support
The role of a leader isn’t only to monitor performance but also to support it. Methods of support typically include coaching and training, and it is critical to encourage leaders to take ownership of these tasks.
Coaching is arguably our greatest tool with our employees. However, getting it right is what is important. Support should be available to all members of the team, from those performing well to those who may be underperforming, and it should always be aligned to achieving the expectations that have already been set.
7. Eliminate surprises
In all elements of life, surprises can be quite daunting and often unwelcome. With respect to disciplinary action, this can be even more the case.
Through effective setting of expectations, accountability of performance and continual leadership support, employees will always be aware of how they are performing with respect to objectives.
By making performance management a part of the environment, leaders further demonstrate the importance of being aware of an individual’s contribution and relevant consequences.
8. Don’t make it personal
As a leader of a business, we are charged with achieving certain objectives. In meeting those objectives, it is our responsibility to share them with the broader team and lead them to achieve them as a group.
It is our job to provide the right tools to allow our employees to meet expectations. However, on the rare occasions when an employee shows through their actions that they don’t want to be a part of the team, it is our role to act upon it.
If you have effectively made performance management a part of your environment, then remind yourself that the employee chose to behave in a certain way and should realise the consequence of those actions.
9. Always ask, don’t assume
The last thing that anybody wants is an ‘attack’ during a meeting, particularly if we as leaders have got it wrong. Rather than assume a consequence for an employee, use the opportunity presented to ask questions.
This can help on several fronts, including perhaps finding out critical information which wasn’t otherwise obvious to you, or in allowing an employee to understand for themselves why they are in a particular situation, rather than being told.
As a leader in a disciplinary situation with an employee, asking questions can often be your greatest tool in further encouraging accountability and uncovering missing elements of a situation.
10. Seek support…. for YOU
We are not expected to have the answers for every question or situation. It is as important with disciplinary action as with other elements of life to seek support and valued opinion. More often than not, organisations provide formal support to leaders so that we can make supported decisions which are consistent with organisational expectations.
As a leader, leverage these opportunities, as they will not only support you in specific situations but will also provide you with insight into how to continue to develop in your own leadership journey.
Overall, disciplinary action can be one of the less attractive elements of our roles as leaders. It is difficult, if not impossible, to make it something we enjoy. However, following the tips above and leading an environment where performance management is the norm, we can drive higher engagement and increased performance.
A key for us to remember as leaders is that the consequences we deliver will reap future behaviour, and what we act to accept from our employees will always resonate further than what we say we expect.
Angelo Azar is General Manager, Sales Customer Services, BOC South Pacific, A Member of the Linde Group.