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Overcoming Reluctance for Performance Conversations

Yesterday, I had a conversation with a friend of mine who recently retired after having a decades-long successful career as a manager in the medical field.  We talked about the importance of performance interactions and the pivotal role of the manager. He remarked that his management style was very laid back and his tendency had been to avoid rather than address performance issues.  This style he believed, worked best with the culture of the organization and was a key factor contributing to the high employee retention rates.

He was also quick to point out that there were times when his style of not dealing with employee performance issues was not beneficial to the business and caused problems.  Unfortunately, he didn’t have the foundational skills and mindset to confidently broach these performance challenges.  As a result, the opportunities for performance improvement never occurred because they were never mentioned.

My friend’s situation is one of the most common I have encountered over the past twenty or so years as a both a manager and an adviser to other managers.  As managers, many of us are reluctant to initiate important performance conversations with people, and it is not uncommon for us as managers to find “good” reasons to avoid them altogether or to keep them at a minimum. This approach is often used under the guise that we are too busy, that we are empowering people to perform, or that the current situation will get better (or stay better) on its own.

Here are examples of how this approach might sound:

I don’t want to have to tell people what to do. I just want them to know how to get their jobs done and then do it.  I have too much other work to do. Let me do my job, and I’ll empower them do their jobs.

Have you ever thought this or used words like these to members of your team?  Most of us have.   Overcoming our aversion to performance conversations requires practice using an approach or techniques that build our skills and confidence in this area.

Just for starters, listed below are three tips to help us as managers begin the work of reducing our tendency to avoid performance discussions with people.

You are not alone.
Sometimes it helps to realize that other managers struggle with the same issues as we do.  As I mentioned earlier, the style of avoiding or minimizing performance interactions with people is a common approach taken by many managers.  It represents an enormous opportunity for us as managers to significantly improve performance, both our own performance and that of our employees.

Develop an increased awareness of opportunities.
Often, before we can begin to make changes in our behavior and management style it helps to simply become more aware of chances that present themselves in our day to day conversations with people to bring up performance related issues.  It doesn’t mean we have to discuss them, or judge ourselves for not bringing them up right there on the spot.  Rather, we simply become more aware of the opportunities that we have as managers to really impact performance, and we begin to imagine what we would say in those performance conversations.

Look for easy points of entry.
The last tip to get us considering ways to address rather than avoid performance conversations is to look for opportunities to talk about performance that present themselves to us in easy ways.  For example, the easiest point of entry to performance conversations occurs when your team member comes to you and asks for your input, guidance or suggestions.  This is a prime chance for us as managers to provide coaching assistance that will help that person with their performance issues.  This in turn will hopefully build our skill and confidence to engage in future performance discussions that we initiate.

These are just are just a few tips to get us moving in a direction where we can improve our own performance as managers and also that of our staff.  Over the next several weeks, try practicing these tips to begin the transformation to higher levels of performance .  If interested, you can also explore options at Starfish Performance Consultants or download my free eBook Interact with Impact for additional suggestions on getting started with successful interactions in the new business normal.

As a manager or supervisor, have you ever been reluctant to engage in performance conversations?  Any suggestions or tips based on your experience?


Categories: Management, New Normal, Performance, Transformation
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