Does this sound familiar? You have a team member who is engaged in some rather sketchy behavior, behavior that you know you ought to address. However, the thought of having a performance feedback conversation isn’t really appealing. So, you think to yourself:
“It’s not THAT bad.”
“Maybe if I ignore it, it will correct itself.”
“I don’t want to make a big deal out of this.”
Or, you’ve spent a few sleepless hours tossing and turning thinking:
“I don’t wanna!” (Insert whiney voice here.)
“Why am I so stressed? It’s just a conversation.”
“This is ridiculous! Maybe I am over-reacting.”
If this scenario seems familiar, you are not alone. In my decades of working with leaders at all levels, it has become glaringly obvious that performance management conversations are some of the most difficult leadership conversations. So difficult, that many leaders put them off or ignore problems in the vain hope that they will rectify themselves. So, how do we make performance or disciplinary conversations easier? By adjusting our mindset!
Performance Conversations are an Engagement Strategy
One of my favorite mindset shifts is to remember that ignoring an employee’s performance or failing to have performance management conversations, even disciplinary conversations is far more detrimental to an employee’s engagement than having those conversations. While the conversations may be difficult for employees and leaders alike, having the conversation sends a message to the employee that they matter. It makes it clear that you, and by extension, the organization, care about their success. It makes it obvious that you as a leader are willing to give them an opportunity to improve. And it helps employees know where they stand. When team members don’t know where they stand, it breeds insecurity and anxiety, which often leads to further poor performance and disengagement. Performance conversations are a tool great leaders use to enhance engagement.
It is also important to note that performance conversations don’t need to be exclusively negative. These conversations are an opportunity to point out strengths and express appreciation for what is going well. Many leaders forget to point out what people are doing right along with where they can improve. Keeping the conversation focused on both the positive and the negative can help keep employees on track and make course corrections.
Performance Conversations are a Retention Strategy
While similar to thinking of these conversations as an engagement strategy, the notion of these conversations as a retention strategy is slightly different. When you have this mindset, you recognize that while you are having these conversations to help the employees who need to improve, you are also having these conversations to keep your top performers!
Research is very clear that one of the reasons good people quit is because they become extremely frustrated when poor performance goes unaddressed. In other words, if you ignore poor performance, your top performers notice and will often think that it doesn’t matter what they or anyone else does. They begin to feel keenly the injustice of others being allowed to get away with poor performance when they are following the rules, hitting their metrics, or being a stellar employee. Eventually, they will either check out mentally (become disengaged) or check out physically (quit.) And, as everyone knows, losing a good employee can be devastating in terms of talent, institutional knowledge, and connectivity. When you lose a top performer, it is very difficult to replace them.
It’s also important to remember that just because someone is a top performer or isn’t engaged in anything “wrong”, they also deserve performance management conversations to help them feel connected and engaged. The focus may not be on things to correct. The focus may be on what they see as the next career steps, projects they are interested in, or other career development opportunities. Because lack of career development is also a reason good people quit. So, great leaders have the mindset that performance conversations are a retention strategy.
I Have the Mindset – Now What?
Once you have adopted the mindset, the next step is to build your skillset. Educate yourself. Learn how to have performance management conversations with tact and finesse. Mindset coupled with skillset is the secret to effective performance management or disciplinary conversations.
If you, a team member, or an entire team need help to develop the skillset for effective conversations, reach out. Programs are readily available.