performance chart

Managing Performance: Handling poor performance without demotivating people

Anyone can track performance. It’s a simple numbers game. The hard part is giving negative feedback. How do you get the balance right between correcting poor performance and still motivate people to perform better? How do you avoid provoking a defensive reaction, upsetting people, demoralizing them and damaging your relationship with them?

Not easy. But there are a few simple techniques that can help you make this challenge a bit easier to tackle. The first thing to do is to hold performance discussions with your team members frequently, at least once a quarter, but better still, once a month. Frequent discussions are less threatening than infrequent ones. People get more used to it; they adjust emotionally. A second step is to accentuate the positive. Discussions at work are too focused on problems, issues and things that have gone wrong. As a result, employees approach such meetings with their boss prepared to defend themselves.

The easiest way to accentuate the positive is to start every meeting with a simple discipline: ask your subordinate to list the things that went well since you last met. Ask what things he or she is most pleased about. This gives subordinates a chance to talk about achievements first, hence creating an atmosphere where they will look more forward to such meetings. As a result they will relax and feel less defensive about admitting mistakes. Put the onus on them here too. After you have asked them what has gone well, ask the flipside question: what has not gone so well? Then ask what they feel they need to do differently in future. The key point here is that it is easier for someone to admit their own errors than to have to listen to someone else tell them where they goofed up. Moreover, you are more likely to motivate better performance if your subordinates tell you their improvement plan than if you tell them what to do. If they don’t own up to something through your questions that you feel needs to be discussed, ask more specific questions: How do you feel the meeting went yesterday? How could you have helped it go smoother? Again, the key is to avoid operating in ‘’telling’’ mode.

So, the key steps here are frequency, start with positives and get subordinates to do most of the talking. Try this in group meetings as well. Ask people to state what they are pleased about since the last meeting and then what they feel they could do better.