Performance problems: Supervisors must take calm, solution-oriented approach

One of your employees has been late with his monthly report three times in the last four months.

You have noticed that the quality of your secretary's typing has been deteriorating over the past few weeks.

One of your technicians has not done a thorough job of planning a major project, which has resulted in complaints from members of the project team.

As a boss, you may face problems similar to these.

No matter what form it takes, when work quality or quantity falls below standards, you are dealing with a performance problem.

Sometimes supervisors do more harm than good when they try to resolve problems without a plan in mind.

Criticizing an employee for sloppy work or shouting about missed deadlines is a shortsighted way of motivating through intimidation. Vague references like "shape up" often do little more than create anxiety. Ignoring the problem is equally myopic.

A calm, solution-oriented discussion with your employee is more likely to produce long-term results, and will preserve the employee's self-esteem and self-motivation.

Development Dimensions, a management training firm based in Pennsylvania, suggests a systematic approach to apply when dealing with performance problems.

DESCRIBE THE PROBLEM PRECISELY
Criticism at this point will only create defensiveness and resentment.

In a matter-of-fact tone of voice, describe the problem in specific terms, using quantifiable data if possible. ("Over the past four months, three of your monthly reports have been more than two days late.")

A clear definition of the problem is crucial. Get your fact straight before the discussion.

ASK FOR THE EMPLOYEE'S HELP IN SOLVING THE PROBLEM
By doing this, you are extending an invitation for ideas and cooperation. The discussion will probably be perceived as collaborative rather than punitive because you are focusing on the problem, not the person.

DISCUSS CAUSES OF THE PROBLEM
Ask an open-ended question like, "What do you think is causing this problem?" Listen open-mindedly to the response, summarize frequently and clarify to check your understanding.

Do not judge or argue with the reasons that are given. This will choke off the discussion and inhibit fact-finding. If the employee blames other people, don't take sides. Probe for facts.

IDENTIFY AND WRITE DOWN POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS
Ask, "Do you have any ideas for solving this problem?" Write the ideas down. This sends a clear message to your employees -- their ideas are important. It also helps you to remember them for a follow-up discussion.

If he simply says, "I'll try harder," ask him what he'll have to do differently next time. Try to get detailed solutions.

DECIDE ON ACTIONS TO BE TAKEN BY EACH OF YOU
It's your responsibility to decide on the action to be taken to solve the problem.

Whenever possible, let your employee try one of her own solutions. She will probably be more committed to making it work. If her solution is impractical or unrealistic, she will need to know why. Together, examine the pros and cons of each idea.

AGREE ON A FOLLOW-UP DATE
Before the meeting ends, set up another meeting to check your employee's progress. Allow enough time for the solution to take effect. For example, "I'd like to get together again a week before your next report is due. How about Monday, July 17, at 9 o'clock?"

An interim checkpoint will give both of you an opportunity to see how the solutions are working. If they are, encouragement and praise are in order. If they aren't, have another performance-improvement discussion. If these attempts fail, disciplinary action may be your last resort.


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 354-9500, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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