Managing performance in your workplace

Managing your staff

How do we ensure that our staff are performing at their very best in the workplace? In this presentation learn about reasons that staff may be underperforming and steps to help staff achieve peak performance.

Key learning outcomes:

  • Why staff may not perform at their best
  • The steps needed for peak performance
  • Discussing performance and having courageous conversations

Presented by USC Moreton Bay

Managing performance in your workplace

Managing performance in your workplace

Hi, I'm Karen Becker. I'm the Professor of Human Resource Management at USC, and Head of USC Moreton Bay. It's my pleasure today to be talking to you about managing performance in the workplace.

One of the questions we often ask ourselves is how do we ensure that our staff are performing at their very best in our workplace? That's what we're going to address today.

We'll cover three things in this presentation:

  1. Why staff may not perform at their best
  2. The steps needed for peak performance
  3. Discussing performance and having courageous conversations

Why staff may not perform at their best

The first topic is why might our staff not perform at their best. Research shows there's a range of reasons that we might have an expectation performance gap. Those times when we think we expect certain things from our staff, and they're not performing.

Let's look at a few of those reasons:

  1. There may be a lack of understanding on their part about your expectations or the level of performance you're expecting.
  2. They haven't had sufficient training to be able to do the job and know all the things that are expected.
  3. They may also be suffering from overwork or a lack of time to do individual jobs well, so they're trying to do lots and they're not doing any of them well
  4. They might be bored, they may not feel stretched, and they may not put in that extra effort we expect.
  5. There may also be a lack of appropriate tools and equipment to be able to do their job well.
  6. They may have a lack of information which might also be needed for them to do the task exactly the way you expect and based on full information, rather than just part of it.
  7. They may also feel that they're not supported by either their supervisor or the people they work with.
  8. There may also be times where there's conflict or dysfunction in the team, and what that does is actually distract people from the job at hand and main that they focus on things outside rather than about getting the job done.
  9. Finally, but something we can't rule out is that people have personal issues from time to time and they struggled to then maintain focus or to perform at their very best.

What I'd point out with this list is there's a number of things that we can influence. But in psychology, we talk about attribution error, and this is the mistake we all make, not just at work, but in personal lives, where we tend to blame personal characteristics of, an individual, rather than think about the context or the situation they're working in.

So when someone cuts us off in traffic, we think they're rude. We think they're impatient. We are quite annoyed with their behavior. In fact, there may be a situation where they're trying to rush to get to a hospital, or there's some other context for their behavior.

It's the same with staff in the workplace. We need to take a step back and think maybe it's not them. Maybe it's not their personality or something about them and their personal characteristics. Maybe there is a situation they’re in or context that we've set for them that means they're not performing at their very best.

Ability. Motivation. Opportunity

I put it simply this way. We look at AMO. Ability, motivation, and opportunity.

Do staff have the ability to do their work? Are they capable of doing it? If so they have the motivation to do it? And thirdly, are they given the opportunity they need to do it well. And those things together lead to high performance.

The steps needed for peak performance

What are the steps that we could take in the workplace to make sure that we have peak performance from our staff? We talk about the five “to’s”:

  1. What to
  2. Want to
  3. How to
  4. Chance to
  5. Led to

1. What to

In the first instance, we need our staff to know what to do. Do they know what is expected of them? Do they have a clear job description? That doesn't need to be prescriptive, but it needs to be set down and explained. And we need to make sure that the staff have clear expectations on both the outcomes we're expecting, but also the way they behave, and the way they carry out their job. They need to know what success looks like.

2. Want to

Do the staff enjoy the work they have and have a sense that it's valued and valuable? What we mean by this is do they understand the meaning behind their work? Do they know how it contributes to the bigger picture of your business and achieving the outcomes that you're looking for?

Do they feel empowered and have a sense that they can control some things and can take initiative and have impact? Do they get an opportunity in their work to do things that meet their own personal goals or aspirations or motivations? Everyone's motivated by something, and we've really got to tap into that when we’re dealing with our staff. Sometimes that might mean looking at their job and trying to enrich or enlarge it. Not just throwing lots more tasks at them, but actually giving them things that are challenging and meaty and that they enjoy doing.

In particular, are we helping them to gain skills? Because these days, people are aware that they need to continue to develop their skills (in the worst case) so they can find a job if they're unemployed, or if they're looking for their next job. But hopefully if you're training your staff and giving them those opportunities for professional development or development in their work somehow, they'll choose to stay because they feel they're being valued and they're gaining new skills.

3. How to

Do staff know how to do their job well? There's only two ways we achieve this.

We either recruit, and have good recruitment processes to find staff who know how to do their job, or we have good training, and we train staff in a thorough, methodical, appropriate way for the job that they're doing.

It may be a combination of the two, but those are the two keys to making sure that our staff have the actual ability to do the job.

4. Chance to

Do they (staff) have a working environment that supports good work? Are there systems and procedures that you've got that makes sure they do their job the way that you expect? Do they have the tools and equipment that they need? Do they have the time and the information to do it, and do it well? And do they have the support from the team to actually get on and do their job as a part of the bigger picture of delivering for your business?

5. Led to

Do staff have a fair and positive leader who appreciates them and helps them to reach their full potential? And this can happen in a number of ways.

  1. We all need to lead by example and role model good behaviors in the workplace.
  2. Do we set challenging goals and hold a high standard for ourselves and for our staff? Is everyone held to account for that equally and fairly?
  3. Do we have good communication and clear focus for the work that we're doing?

These things can also contribute to high performance in the workplace.

Discussing performance and having “courageous conversations”

Finally, I want to talk about discussing performance and having courageous conversations.

Consider the following about performance discussion:

  • Should be regular
  • Should NOT just be when there is a problem – performance management is an ongoing cycle
  • Should give the employee an opportunity to reflect on their own performance rather than just your judgement
  • Should provide an opportunity to identify areas of interest and development

The courageous conversation

Let's be honest. None of us enjoy receiving negative feedback, and we often just as much avoid giving negative feedback. We know that sometimes giving negative feedback can trigger emotional responses. People can get angry. They can deny that it's happening. They can retreat into themselves. And none of those are healthy responses and good for our business. But as managers, we need to acknowledge that people will get emotional and we need to recognise that and allow them to voice that.

The biggest thing we can do to have these courageous conversations in a way that's constructive and productive is to take a problem-solving approach. This helps both of you to understand the situation and then to identify possible actions.

How do we discuss under-performance?

1. Identify the gap and be specific with examples

The first thing we need to do is to identify the gap. Go back to our discussion about the performance/expectation gap. We need to be specific. We need to give examples of times when we've identified that there is that expectation versus performance gap.

2. Discuss potential causes of the performance gap

We need to talk about what the possible causes of that gap might be. Don’t make assumptions or not fall into the trap of attributing it to one particular issue, but actually problem solving and trying to identify the possible causes.

3. Identify solutions to address the gap

Once we know the causes we can move to identifying possible solutions and there may be more than one to address the gap that we're observing.

4. Determine an action plan

We then set out a very clear action plan with agreed actions. And it may not just be the staff member's actions. There may be things you can do to support them and steps you can take, or things you commit to, along with them committing to actions.

5. Agree how performance will be monitored and reviewed

You also then need to agree how it will be monitored including when you'll touch base again, when you'll review again, just how they're going. And that action plan is something that should be a living document.

If the worst happens

We sometimes get to the point of thinking that this is not resolvable. That there's a performance issue or a mismatch, and that we need to consider terminating an employee. Unfortunately, people often leave it too late. They get frustrated. They haven't raised it. Then they simply want to terminate an employee, and that's not an appropriate way to go.

If you follow the steps we've talked about, hopefully you can nip this in the bud, so it doesn't reach this point. But that's why we encourage action plans. That's why you should have a grade timelines and reviews to make sure that you've got all that documentation should the worst happen.

Finally you do need to seek expert advice if you're going to go down the track of termination. There are people who specialise in employment law. They can ensure that you comply with legislation and are covered should you be looking to terminate an employee. So

Final word

There are two great quotes:

“Everyone talks about building a relationship with your customer. I think you build one with your employees first”

-Angela Ahrendts (Senior Vice President, Apple)

If you look after your staff, they will look after your customers. It’s that simple.”

-Richard Branson (CEO, Virgin)

I hope from this video, you've been prompted to think about things you might do in your workplace to actually build peak performance and ensure that your staff are performing at their best.

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