Skill #3: The Skill of Performance Conversation
Updated: Jul 29, 2019
It’s the gap in agreed performance or behaviour that opens the door for a productive performance conversation.
Done correctly, the performance conversation will either result in an immediate improvement in performance, or it will lead to a conversation of a different nature – one which the poor performer will have no doubt about where it is headed #performancemanagement.
The goal of the performance conversation is to give the poor performer the opportunity to step up, should they choose to do so. Remember, what they do as a result of the conversation is THEIR choice.
The most important phase of the performance conversation is the planning phase. You cannot wing a performance conversation. It needs to be prepared for, and preparation can take some time. Watch that you don’t use that as an excuse to defer, delay or avoid the conversation that has to be had.
In the planning phase, decide what the objective of the conversation is.
What behaviour/result do you want to bring to the person’s attention?
What facts do you have to support your decision to raise the subject?
What change in behaviour/result do you want to see?
What impact is their behaviour/result having on the rest of the crew and the business as a whole?
Plan to state what you're aiming to achieve and be curious about why they’re under-performing or behaving in a way that is not acceptable to you.
At the heart of every #performance conversations are facts…and stories.
And one way of making it safe for people to be open with you is to recognise and articulate the stories you find yourself creating around their behaviour.
For example, once you’ve given the person the facts that they’ve been late for work 5 mornings out of 10 over the last three weeks, you may suggest that you’re wondering if that’s because they’re highly disorganised or they just don’t care about being punctual. These are the ‘stories’ you’ve created around their behaviour.
Sharing your stories – and acknowledging that they are simply stories at this point – enables the other person to explain their lack of punctuality.
Once they start talking and explaining, it’s hard to follow a rigid plan. You will need to be flexible and adaptable. The main thing to stay focused on in this phase of the conversation is asking questions – very specific types of questions: questions that throw their behaviour back on them.
Telling people that their behaviour is unacceptable will get you nowhere.
They might sit there and look like they’re listening, but inside they’ll be running the internal dialogue that every naughty child runs when admonished – “yeah, yeah, blah, blah, whatever!”
Instead you need to ask things like what impact they think their behaviour is having on others around them.
How they would handle their behaviour if they owned the business.
Where they think this might lead them.
What they believe the next steps should be.
After the questioning phase, the performance conversation will go in one of two directions.
Most people underestimate the power of these behavioural questions because they’ve never been taught to manage performance conversations in this way. However these questions are guaranteed to identify if the situation is salvageable or if it’s time for them to go.
If the situation seems salvageable, together you’ll agree on what is expected from this point forwards. You’ll also agree on a reporting schedule or performance management plan. By putting such a plan in place, you’re not committed to keeping the poor performer – you’re simply giving them an opportunity to prove that they deserve to keep their job.
This is where measurement comes back into play. You can learn more about creating measures in the article, Skill #2: The Skill of Measuring Performance.
It is essential, if you are going to provide an opportunity for them to prove their value that both of you are clear about what that value looks like and how it will be measured. Ask yourself what evidence they could provide to demonstrate the agreed behaviours/results.
Most importantly, stick doggedly to the performance plan! Both of you have to be absolutely accountable for your part in the plan. Your personal accountability has to be above reproach if you expect to hold someone else to the same standard. Rescheduling even one meeting or letting them off the hook for something they agreed they’d do, will set you right back to where you started.
It goes without saying that you have to be prepared to invest time in a performance management plan – because proper performance management takes time and it takes effort and energy.
If, on the other hand, the performance conversation has ended with mutual recognition that it’s time to go, you’ll need to weigh up the cost and impact of letting them serve out their notice versus the cost and impact of letting them go on the spot.
Make sure you’ve worked through this scenario before you embark on the conversation. Ask yourself if the damage they might do during their termination period is worth the extra pay out to release them early. Consider possible loss of clients, loss of files and intellectual property, breaches of security, theft from site, impact on morale and the risk of falsehoods being spread among remaining staff.
Managing performance is an essential part of leading a business and don’t make the mistake of thinking that because your business is a trade or just small, that this doesn’t apply to you.
In fact, it applies disproportionately more. In a small team of three people – let’s say it’s just you, an admin person and an installer – if one person out of three is underperforming, that’s 33% of your workforce not pulling their weight.
And that one person can wreak havoc on your business.
But too many owners of trade businesses wait too long to take action.
If you’re ever in doubt about whether you need to tackle performance issues ask yourself these two questions:
If I had the opportunity, would I hire this person again in a heartbeat?
Is this person, who I’m paying good money to – money I’ve worked hard to generate – adding an equal amount of value to the business?
The answers to those questions will tell you everything about what you need to do!
Performance management is not easy, but remember that help is just a phone call away.
If you’d like to talk to us confidentially about a challenge in your business, whether it’s around people, productivity or your profitability, we’re here to help. Call now on 1300 717 557 or click this link to set up a 10-minute Performance Probe chat.