Sadly I have a plethora of unhealthy (well, perhaps untreatable) indoor plants in my house. I hold myself completely responsible – I’m not good with them. When a plant gets sick or dies, we don’t blame the plant – we generally take responsibility for not providing the water, sunlight or nutrients it needs to survive and thrive. But when a manager experiences under-performance in their team, the focus goes straight to what’s wrong with the employee.
But isn’t the job of a manager, as with the plant, to nurture employee growth and development so they can do their best? If your employee isn’t performing, what can you do to create the optimum environment for them to survive and thrive at work?
Put yourself in your staff member’s shoes, and ask yourself these three questions:
1. Do I know what’s expected of me?
Staff do best when they are clear about what’s expected of them in their job – the tasks they must do, the behavioural standards expected, the priorities they should apply, the outcomes they are expected to achieve, and the timeframes they are required to work within. Managers usually think these expectations have been made clear, but in reality, staff may be confused, or can have quite different perceptions about what’s expected of them.
Having conversations in which you clearly describe your expectations of your staff, and then writing down what has been agreed, will help to overcome these differences in perception, and ensure your staff are doing the work that’s needed to achieve individual and team goals. If circumstances change, have another conversation and update your written agreement to reflect the changes.
2. Am I able to do what’s expected of me?
Employees need to be capable of doing the job. That is, they need the skills, knowledge, experience and ability to meet the expectations you’ve agreed on. Don’t assume the person has all the capabilities they need just because they were recruited to the job or they’ve been in it for a while – there are many reasons why capability gaps exist, and your job as the manager is to identify and address these. You should also carefully consider whether the workplace environment supports the employee’s performance. Do they have all the necessary tools and resources to do the job, do organisational processes and systems support or work against them meeting expectations, and is the workplace culture that you have created conducive to the worker performing at their best? If not, what do you, as manager, need to change to create the optimum performance conditions?
3. Do I want to do what’s expected of me?
Staff can perform well and remain resilient, even under difficult circumstances, when they feel a strong sense of commitment to what they’re doing. Try to understand what drives and motivates each one of your staff, and where possible, respond to these motives. If an employee is motivated by helping others, you could build in a training or mentoring component to their role. And since most of us do better when we feel part of something bigger than ourselves, you can facilitate a sense of meaning and purpose by helping your staff clearly see the alignment between their work and the organisation’s goals.
Performance management systems often fail because organisations spend enormous resources on forms and review cycles and ratings and IT systems, but fail to support managers to learn the basic behaviours needed to get the best out of staff. If you’re a manager, be clear about what you expect of your staff, help them develop the required capabilities, provide the resources and environment they need to succeed, and help them see the importance of what they’re doing. If you’re a staff member struggling with your own performance, share this article with your manager!