Do your people really get out of bed to do a shitty job at work? Employee performance is something that has interested me for over 20 years and this is a conversation I’ve had hundreds of times over the years with managers at all levels and across numerous industries. What is going on when someone isn’t performing? When they’re not stepping up, coping or progressing the way you’d hoped? How come?
One of the most common responses to this question I get is “They just don’t give a s%#t, I don’t think they care.”
And my response is “How do you know?”
Because let me tell you something (and yes I’m gross-generalising here but after working with managers for 15+ years on coaching and performance in over 15 countries I know a thing or two about this) – one thing the average manager doesn’t do is ask enough questions.
We make so many assumptions. We think we know exactly why they’re not performing and what they need to do about it. And we think it’s our job to fix it.
The truth is, it’s not your job to fix it. It’s your job to help create the conditions that enable them to fix it.
And anyway, you may have noticed that often your perspective and your solutions are not always right (and if you are doubting this right now, a sure fire way to test this is to gauge how many times you’ve discussed this issue with them so far or how long it’s been going on for. If the answer to that is more than three or more than a few weeks then there’s a good chance you have not cracked it). Why is that? Because usually you don’t have all the information yet.
You haven’t got to the bottom of what’s really going on.
Too often managers go in with their view of the situation and not all of the information, and end up problem solving for the wrong cause. More on this in my next blog.
This propensity (aka fixation!) on trying to fix it comes from a good place of course. Managers of people feel responsible for the job being done correctly, they want to influence a positive outcome, ensure productivity and do what is good for the organisation. It’s just a matter of channeling this dedication in a useful way when it comes to helping people perform at their best.
ASK ASK ASK
There are useful strategies for giving feedback both formally and informally (see my blog Giving Feedback and Understanding Performance) but I always say that in this kind of conversation it’s your team member/appraisee who should be doing most of the talking – unpacking what’s going on for themselves and exploring solutions. Your job is to hold space for that, be curious and ask good questions. Ask. Ask. Ask.
Once you’ve let them know your concern (preferably in just a few sentences), ask open questions like What’s your take on this? How did it go from your point of view? How motivated are you feeling about this right now? What is frustrating you? What do you think will help you get from here to there? What do you need?
Be genuinely curious about what’s going on for them, and see what you discover.
You don’t have to have it all figured out
It really helps if you feel okay about going into the conversation not knowing how it’s going to turn out. This is how I roll in my coaching work with clients every day. Although they may have mentioned something in a phone call or email, I don’t know what’s really going on until we start exploring it. I have no idea what the solution is going to be, or how it’s going to turn out. But you can betcha the moment they sit down I am truly fascinatedly curious about where they’re at and what will unfold. This leaves space for them to go where they need to go in their own internal exploration, and space for us to get to the bottom of the situation.
Because when you can get to the bottom of the situation – and that may take one conversation and it may take five, you will find a solution naturally unfolds. It’s a kind of alchemy; as your team member gets clearer about what’s going on for them, they can more easily think through what needs to happen to change it, improve and move forward postively.
Then you will find they make lasting changes that mean you’re not having that conversation again in two weeks, two months or six months.
And who doesn’t want to save that kind of time?!
Or help people to excel? Perform? Fly like an eagle?
Assuming the best in people
What helps genuine curiosity? Trusting that people don’t get out of bed in the morning to do a shitty job.
I mean, do you? Do you get up thinking, “I’m going to mess around today, I’m going to waste my time, play with my stapler, check Twitter. I don’t need to be productive. What the hell…” Unless it’s one of those days (and we all need a duvet day occasionally), it’s much more likely you get up wanting to do a good job and perhaps thinking about what you want to achieve in your day.
Your team is the same. Except for the occasional case of severe organisational disillusionment, most people just want to come to work and do a good job and feel the satisfaction of that.
So if that’s true, and it’s likely they do care, what else could be going on that’s slowing them down from performing at their best?
You’ll only ever find out if you explore.
Let your mere curious presence help uncover the best in people.