Managing Performance Issues

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October 02, 2018
Organization: Empirical Consulting Solutions jillfisher@thinkempirical.

Signs that an employee is not getting the job done
•    Not getting work done on time, if at all.
•    A generally negative “attitude.”
•    Yelling and making angry outbursts.
•    Engaging in passive-aggressive behavior.
•    Trying to rally other employees to side with him or her.
•    Going from cubicle to cubicle, stirring up trouble.
•    Tuning out or being argumentative.
•    Showing up late, leaving early, or taking long lunches.
•    Discussing personal matters with clients, customers or coworkers.
•    Flagrantly violating or ignoring company policies.

Meeting with an employee to discuss performance
Prior to the meeting
•    If it is not a situation that warrants immediate attention, schedule the meeting and notify the employee of the date and time and the purpose of the meeting.
•    Remain calm and professional.
•    Arrange to meet somewhere private.
•    Put your agenda in writing to keep you on track.
•    Have documentation of the problem.
•    Know ahead of time what you want the employee to do to remedy the situation.

During the meeting
•    Talk with the employee about the performance deficiency you observed (be objective), not your opinion about the employee (don’t be subjective).
•    Focus on specific (not general) behavior, for example, an assignment that did not get done, too many errors in a report, or not following the instructions of a manager.
•    Examples of what to say about performance issues: “Here is the memo you sent to accounts receivable about the Smith account. It has the wrong balances and you mistakenly flagged the account as past due.”

“When we spoke last, you agreed that it was reasonable to complete the report in two days. It’s now four days later. I’ve checked with you every day and you’ve told me everything is under control. I need the report by the end of the day. If you don’t think you can finish it, tell me now.”
•    Ask the employee what’s going on. Listen to the employee’s side without interrupting and without challenging the employee’s perceptions. If you have questions, wait until after the employee finishes.

NOTE: If the employee raises a problem within the workplace that interferes with his doing his job, then tell the employee you will investigate his concerns and plan a follow-up meeting at a different time.

•    Provide guidance on what is expected of the employee. Relate your comments to the job description. Provide effective feedback.
•    Agree to an improvement plan. Although it is preferable that the employee participates in developing a plan, thereby taking ownership of it, make sure it achieves the goals you desire.
- Example of a specific goal for improvement:
“Every memo that leaves this department must be free from grammar and spelling errors.”
- Example of specific steps for achieving the improvement:
“I want you to run spellcheck before you save or print and documents. For the next week, we will meet at 3:00 p.m. and go over your outgoing memos together.”
- Example of specific time limit for achieving the improvement:
“I checked the memos I showed you. Each had 7 mistakes. This week, I want memos we review to have fewer than 3 mistakes each. Next week, I will meet with you and I want every memo we review together to have no errors that spellcheck is capable of detecting.”

After the meeting
•    Document the meeting (but first, consider carefully the words you will use).
•    Record “who,” “what,” “where,” “when,” and “how” or “why.”
•    Note the specific example(s) you used and how the employee responded.
•    Again, be objective, not subjective…for example, “The employee disagreed.” not “The employee was ticked off.”
•    Note the details of the agreed upon improvement plan.
•    Follow up with the employee within the agreed-upon time limits.

Purpose of performance appraisals
•    To help create a productive workplace for the company by establishing a formal communications system between managers and employees.
•    To help employees improve their job performance and/or commend for good performance.
•    To help create a productive workplace for the company.
•    To help identify inadequacies or inefficiencies in a company’s training and/or management methods.
•    To eliminate inconsistent standards among managers.
•    To increase the likelihood of managers judging employees on the basis of their work.
•    To protect employers from claims of wrongful termination or discrimination.

Schedule the interview
•    Schedule the interview and notify the employee about 10 days to 2 weeks in advance. Choose a neutral location.
•    Clearly state that the meeting will be the formal (annual or other) performance review.
•    Ask the employee to prepare for the meeting by reviewing his or her performance job objectives, and development goals.

Preparing for the interview
Before putting pen to hand (or fingers to keyboard):
•    Review any performance documentation generated throughout the year and look for any patterns of work performance. Such documentation may include, memos and/or emails, attendance records, warning documents, action plans, commendations, and, of course, the job description.
•    Be prepared to give specific examples of above- or below- average or expected job performance.
•    Prepare a plan-of-action of the appraisal meeting which should include the following: (If necessary, managers should write out the “script” and/or rehearse.)
- Start with introductory words to put the employee at ease;
- State the purpose of the appraisal;
- Explain the appraisal form, especially if new;
- Ask whether the employee thinks he has met expectations;
- Review the form with the employee, point by point;
- Elicit the employee’s comments / explanations;
- Discuss goals and plan for follow-up.

Writing the performance appraisal
What to do
•    Be honest.
•    Base the evaluation on the whole period of performance, not just recent performance.
•    Focus on strengths and weaknesses in each category and give examples.
•    Establish goals for performance improvement, steps to achieve the goals and deadline for meeting the goals.
•    Indicate if the employee’s failure to timely meet the goals will result in discipline or termination.

What not to do
•    Sugarcoat the negatives.
•    Ignore problems and conflicts.
•    Allow one characteristic of the employee or aspect of the job performance to distort the rest of the evaluation.
•    Allow on bad, or good, rating to affect all the other ratings.
•    Permit personal feeling to bias the evaluation process.
•    Focus on subjective criteria to evaluate the employee.
•    Compare the employee to you or to other employees.

Writing Tips
•    Address the performance (or conduct) issues. Don’t attack the character, traits, or personality of the employee.
NO: “Chris has a bad attitude.”
YES: “On most occasions, whenever I ask Chris to do something, he disagrees and argues with me in front of other employees.”
• Document specific behavior. Don’t be too general.
NO: “Chris is very thorough in her work.”
YES: “Chris is thorough and attentive to details, especially in the way she deals with customers. She gets all the necessary information and relays it to others clearly.”
• Document objective, job-related behavior. Don’t be subjective.
NO: “Chris has a great phone manner.”
YES: “Numerous clients have commented that Chris’ manner on the phone is cheerful and pleasant. These are characteristics that are important in her position.”

•    Remain fact-oriented. Avoid emotionally charged comments.
NO: “Clearly, Chris does not care about being a team player. I want him out of here now.”
YES: “Chris rarely offers help to others when her work is done and makes excuses when asked by others to help. Being viewed as helpful and team oriented will be important if she wants to make a future here.”

•    Tailor your comments to be constructive and solution-focused. Don’t be accusatory and fault-finding.

NO: “Chris just can’t seem to get control of his anger. He’s a loose cannon.”
YES: “We discussed things Chris might do if he gets upset or angry with a customer on the phone. One idea is to excuse himself when a customer is annoying, then take a few minutes to calm down before calling back.”

•    Present a clear and quantifiable message. Don’t be vague or ambiguous.
NO: “Chris has a problem and I told her she better fix it.”
YES: “Chris failed to meet her sales quota of $50,000 this month. It is important Chris understands the significance of meeting her sales quotas.

She is proficient with other areas of her hob, but continued failure to meet her monthly quotas could ultimately cost Chris her job.”

NOTE: Every comment should meet 2 criteria: (1) So what? and (2) Prove it!
Conducting the meeting
Reviewing the Appraisal Form with the employee
•    Maintain a professional and supportive approach.
•    Keep your tome as positive as possible to motivate the employee.
•    Control your emotions.
•    Develop a “we” (not a “you vs. me”) approach to problem-solving.
•    Refer to the job description, if necessary.
•    Check frequently to make sure the employee understands your comments.
•    Make sure the employee is aware of any consequences of their behavior.
•    Give criticism in a constructive not destructive way.
•    Remind the employee of company policies and professional standards.
•    Give the employee the opportunity to explain any mitigating circumstances, to voice their opinions about your assessment, and to ask questions.
•    Design your plan for any corrective actions, focusing on short-term, accomplishable goals.
Avoiding common pitfalls
•    Being dishonest or sugarcoating the criticism.
•    Arguing with the employee.
•    Making it personal.
•    Consistently giving the employee a high rating, but the n terminating the employee for poor performance.
•    Consistently rating the employee’s performance as poor or mediocre but continuing to hand out praise or generous raises.
•    Failing to evaluate an employee’s job performance at all.

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