Learning To Manage Performance Does Not Come Easily
I was barely twenty-one (21) years of age when I first became a Supervisor in the Computer Department. My responsibility was Computer Operations and every one of my staff members was a lot older and more experienced than I was in the world of work. Being an introvert also fed my inability to provide employee performance feedback.
The appointment came because I was good at work, studying, curious to a fault and took to computers like a duck takes to water. This was the early 80s and technology was new to the business community. I was a rare commodity.
As with anything new, there was apprehension, fear, confusion and avoidance. I can speak in those terms today, but during that time understanding my staff and how to understand their performance was the last thing on my agenda. Having conversations about daily tasks was hard enough.
Learning to manage performance did not come easily for me and my experience over the years has taught me that I am not alone in that regard.
The Trauma That Performance Feedback Creates
There was no preparation for my appointment as a Supervisor. No training. No coaching. No mentoring. None of the support or guidance that floods our work environments in today’s world of work. I had to learn the hard way.
Remember, I was young and just out of university, with no work experience. I approached work the same way I would anything else in my life – like an extension of who I was. My staff members were my friends and we hung out a lot together. Everyone knew each other and conversations flowed freely about everything – except performance.
When performance issues arose they were passed over or mentioned in the casual conversation mostly when relaxing over drinks at the end of a workday. We worked hard and long hours and also applied the same intensity to relaxing when time permitted.
I really struggled to address issues relating to performance during those early management years.
- How could I, so young and inexperienced, give any feedback to my staff?
- In such a casual and friendly environment, how was I supposed to gain respect?
- They were older than I was so why didn’t they know how to perform and behave?
I did not have the answers to these questions and the result was that my conversations and discussions about their performance were usually one-way and very instructional. Actually, there were no conversations at all. I was the boss and I made the decisions which included telling my staff what had to be done.
I left no room for dialogue or clarification. It is no wonder that my time in the role of Supervisor quickly came to and end when I became frustrated with their attitudes and behaviours and resigned.
There was trauma on both sides of the fence.
The Journey Towards Effective Management
I eventually left computers behind and moved into the world of people. Back then it was personnel, today its called human capital. Call it what you may, my management journey has taught me that people really are our most valuable assets and without them, we would have no work and certainly no organisations.
What is frightening about that is the fact that, as humans managing humans, we do not invest adequate time, energy and effort into learning how to perform this role well.
Think about it? When you think about management, do you:
- think about how effective you are in your relationships with people?
- make plans to invest in your learning and human skills?
- pay attention to your behaviours and attitudes towards others and in your roles?
- work towards becoming more assertive?
- master the art of having difficult conversations?
- know how to separate performance from familiarity?
Being able to answer these questions positively will provide you with the foundation that you need to become an effective and assertive performance manager.
The first step is understanding yourself and what you bring to the table.
Understanding – The Performance Feedback Engine
The engine that drives employee performance feedback is understanding, and it begins with understanding yourself. As cliche as this may sound, you cannot extend understanding to another if you do not own it for yourself first.
You must have an understanding of your strengths, weaknesses, limitations, needs, wants, biases, capabilities, successes and failures. When you sit with another human being to provide them with feedback about their performance, you will be holding up a two-way mirror that will reflect a lot of who you are.
Approaching feedback as a one-way event is a contradiction in terms. The word feed-back refers to giving back and should be used to connect the parties participating through effective communication. That means, giving and receiving.
Once you understand yourself, you can engage with empathy and consistency. You will be in a better position to identify with the roles that your employee plays and share your experience of them in each role.
You will ask questions that are more direct and centred on the work at hand and the results that you are seeking. Understanding, empathy and effective communication are engaging behaviours that more often than not provide a conducive framework to support learning and bring out the healthy performance in your employees.
Consistency – The Fuel That Feeds The Engine
If understanding is the engine that drives performance feedback, consistency is the fuel that feeds the engine.
A manager-staff relationship is no different from any other kind of relationship. In the same way that your relationship with your parents requires ongoing communication and dialogue, so does your manager-staff relationship.
Brief exchanges once a week or less will not provide you with the opportunities to develop meaningful understanding and strong connections to effectively manage performance. If you are detached from your staff members you will be working with limited observations, listening and attention.
Conversations should be ongoing and consistent. Not staged and awkward but fluid and appropriate. Be open, curious and receptive. Make notes about your observations and ask open-ended questions to encourage your staff member to share their thoughts and perspectives with you.
If something happens that is not in keeping with your expectations, ask why it happens and what led to the outcome. After you ask, be quiet and listen to what is being shared with you. Do not assume or jump to a conclusion. You may be pleasantly surprised by what comes your way.
Remember that your behaviour should also be consistent. Pay attention to your moods, attitudes, tone and actions. As far as possible you want to remain receptive and engaging to your staff members to create an atmosphere of comfortable discipline.
Do Not Make It Difficult
Providing good performance feedback does not have to be complicated, difficult or overwhelming. It can be as simple as having a discussion with an acquaintance.
Begin with simple steps and daily actions. Take one task at a time and take the time to understand how your staff member completes it. Ask questions about their process, style, expectations and outcomes. Compliment their efforts and the quality of their work.
Ask them if you can support in any other way than you already do. Spend time observing so you can be better acquainted and more knowledgeable.
Providing effective performance feedback requires consistent involvement. It is, by far, the most meaningful way to achieve respect and build your credibility as a manager.
Do you want to strengthen your performance feedback capability?
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