Giving feedback: the task of a manager that most managers most detest! Oh, how easy it is to put it off and never quite get around to it (even though we all know that one of the golden rules of giving feedback is to make it timely). It doesn’t have to be that way. The trick is to be clear about what you want the conversation to achieve and to know what you’re looking for.
Yes, that’s right, you are actually looking something – and that is the root cause of what is going on. So they’ve missed several sales meetings or deadlines, or seem to be prioritising the wrong things. But why?
Partying with accountants
One of the biggest ironies of my career is that for over 16 years I’ve worked with and for accounting firms now and yet my path through school and university was fraught with challenges every time I encountered maths, statistics, accounting and finance, macro economics, micro economics and anything else that required my brain to deal with numbers. I passed everything – but some only just! Give me writing, language, strategy and people stuff any day of the week, but complex numbers? Sheeesh. It’s hard yakker for me I can tell you.
So when people have asked me over the years about working for KPMG (one of the four main international accounting firms) I’ve been quick to clarify that I’m not an accountant – not because they’re supposed to be boring (frankly, my experience in Europe showed me they that really know how to party) but to clarify that my expertise wasn’t with figures but with people.
Where am I going with this? Had I decided to major in accountancy instead of human resources/training and then gone off to work for a finance team I’m pretty sure I would have hit a ceiling very quickly. While I now run my own spreadsheets for my business and know my way around Xero, my ability to handle the detail and complexity of accountancy would have maxed out my ‘capacity’. I’ve seen this exact scenario numerous times in various organisations and the person is often moved into a customer care role or they move on to another vocation.
The five causes of under-performance
Capacity is one of the five typical causes of low-performance:
- Learning: Further learning, training or on the job coaching is needed.
- Capacity: Potential or ability has reached a ceiling.
- Motivation: Low motivation usually due to lack of interest/boredom or too much stress or pressure.
- Internal Resourcefulness: A non-skill related challenge such as chronic stress, stage fright or quick temper.
- External Distraction: Issues external to work such as an ill child or relationship problems.
Get the full story – ASK
As I spoke about recently (Do your people really get out of bed to do a shitty job?) too often managers get gung-ho with trying to fix performance problems without having the full story. As a result they often end up problem-solving for one cause when in fact it is another. A common mix up is mistaking low motivation for more learning needed, or vice versa. These two scenarios require very different approaches, so you really want to be able to discern the difference.
Once you can clock what might be underneath the current performance or behaviour (by ASKING THE PERSON) you can then ask them how they’re going to solve it. For instance if a newly promoted manager hasn’t quite got his head around how to lead his team meetings, you might help him explore how he’ll do that. If he is reluctant to hold team meetings it could be due to a lack of confidence or feeling overwhelmed with too much to do. In each case, helping him explore the problem and identify action steps is more likely to help him make genuine progress. Then you won’t find yourself having the same conversation with him again in a month’s time because it will be SOLVED.
Giving feedback should involve more talking on your team member’s part than yours. As you explore solutions with him you may need to chip in with your thoughts, but keep your ideas in your back pocket until they’re really needed, if at all. Don’t jump the gun.
When we solve our own problems we own the solution. Simple.
Is it really a performance issue?
It’s important to note that sometimes it’s not a performance issue. Sometimes what you’re seeing as ‘under-performance’ is not actually the fault of the individual. It may be due to a lack of communication by the manager, genuine technical issues, an action by the client, etc. How do you gauge this? Do your best to discern if someone has done everything they could in the situation (ie. Did they let the client know they’d sent through the wrong file/information/document?).
Know your outcome
Finally, begin with the end in mind. My favourite question to go into a meeting or event is this:
What do I want this person/people to think, feel and do as a result of this interaction?
With feedback conversations, this is usually about helping them improve their performance. It’s about helping people develop, grow and be high performers (and I’m not talking about disciplinary situations, etc which are beyond this article). For people to perform at their best they need to feel supported, trusted and appreciated. So, how do you want your team member to think, feel and do as a result of this conversation?
Bottom line: the more open you are, the more likely you are to see what’s really going on.