In a perfect world, everyone on the team gets along and there are never any problems with performance. Unfortunately, we don't live in a perfect world. That's even true where I work (shocking, to be sure).
Yesterday, along with several colleagues, I spent the day with a delightful consultant, Sue, from Interact Performance. Over the next twelve months, every manager at AtTask will be going through this training. My group was the first to start the training (we'll finish up with another day of instruction next week).
Every day away from work is one day less to accomplish my goals and objectives, but I enjoyed the discussions and came away with a different perspective on some foundational skills I had been taught before. Although I consider myself to be a pretty capable manager most of the time, I enjoyed looking at some of the things I do from a different perspective. What's more, the training yesterday will impact how I interact with my team going forward. Yes, I thought it was that relevant.
We spent the first half of the day discussing how to effectively communicate the situation when there is a performance problem. We identified four foundational principles that are important when communicating the situation, they are:
Be Direct: This doesn't mean abrupt or rude, but avoiding the problem or beating around the bush doesn't help the situation. I view it the same way as taking off an band aid. I just rip it off. Yeah, it hurts, but it doesn't hurt for long. "Jim, we need to talk about a problem..." The longer it takes to address the issue, the more difficult and painful it becomes. Be direct.
Be Specific: It just doesn't make sense to be vague. "Jim, I've noticed lately that you've failed to update project status on the last two or three tasks you've completed." The temptation might be to try to solve the problem here, but all we need to really do is identify the problem and give Jim the opportunity to express himself and offer a solution (I imagine I'll talk more about how we discussed resolving these problems in future blog posts).
Be Non-Punishing: "Punishing" might be an awkward word, but I think the point is to be non-threatening or condescending when we directly and specifically identify the problem. A matter-of-fact approach works best. I think it's important that we assume the best in people. Most people have a reason for why they do what they do, I think it's important that we listen and give them an opportunity to respond. When we use a punishing tone or body language, Jim will immediately get defensive and we'll usually lose any opportunity we might have to coach or mentor to improve the behavior.
Follow Up: Often, once we've addressed a performance problem, we fail to adequately follow up. "Jim, thanks for your willingness to stay current on your project status updates. Let's talk about this again in our next one-on-one and see how things are improving." Saying that isn't enough, it's important that in the next one-on-one meeting with Jim, we actually do follow up and address any improvement or acknowledge if there is still a problem.
At first I thought it was kind of silly to spend so much time talking about and doing exercises concerning communicating the situation. I was wrong. Like most things, the first steps are very important. That applies to how projects are initiated, how the foundation of home is constructed, and how we address performance problems on the team.
"So, before you can solve the problem, you need to communicate the situation in a way the other person understands. You must also describe it in a way that sets a positive tone. Done poorly, you may create a whole new set of problems," say the authors of the program.