JMReid Group Blog

John Reid
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You asked, so we’re answering. Sharing our perspective and insight into developing individual and organizational capability is what we are about.

Our approach to learning leverages the best practices in adult learning.  We understand the importance of context over content, mindset over models and challenge over comfort. We’re ready to go deeper by responding to pointed questions and scenarios and bringing our enthusiasm to the table as we engage in an ongoing dialogue. This week’s topic focus is dealing with gaps in performance.

You wanted to know: What do I do if my direct report isn’t meeting performance expectations?

 JMReid says:

This is one of those ‘context is king’ questions. A number of factors impact the choices you make; these factors include but are not limited to:

  • years of experience
  • track record
  • prior feedback sessions
  • span of control

There is a lot of “art” when executing the science of leadership — there are, however, three broad concepts that can provide some guidance.

Get your mindset right in your role as a manager: 

The first thing to do is to get in the right mindset. By that I mean you have to first ask yourself the question — whose problem is it regarding improving the direct reports’ performance? The answer is the direct report themselves.  It is after all their performance.

I have witnessed a number of managers who believe it’s their job to fix someone’s performance. It is a manager’s job to harness talent by creating a high performance culture, providing resources where needed, and giving honest feedback. Ultimately, however, it is the employee who needs to own both their current performance, and what they need to do to get better.

In regards to feedback, employees need to know what is expected of them to perform well. There is still a tendency by most managers’ to avoid, soften, or generally botch performance  conversations. The standard needs to be clear, models of the right behavior need to be visible, and the manager needs to embrace leaning into these types of conversations. People are entitled to know how their work is being perceived.  After all candor is a compliment. 

According to Berkely People & Culture, “Performance expectations serve as a foundation for communicating about performance throughout the year. When you and an employee set clear expectations about the results that must be achieved, and the methods or approaches needed to achieve them, you establish a path for success.”

Be ready to get curious:

Performance is usually measured against two standards — goods and services measured against objectives and standards (results) and the methods/means used to make a product against the behaviors and values demonstrated during the process (actions & behaviors).

Since poor performance is a problem to solve, questions are the answer. As a manager, you should set aside all of your assumptions and conclusions and get curious. If the voice inside your head is “they don’t care about customers,” “they think they are smarter than everyone else,” or “they just don’t work that hard” — you need to find a way to turn that off. You need to ask good questions and then listen.  Swap judgement for curiosity.

Think Differently

When we see a problem, our instinct is to rush into a solution. This can be detrimental to progress and performance due to the false attribution error.

The false attribution error means that managers will tend to overemphasize personality-based explanations for others’ behavior and underemphasize situational explanations. Our rush to label people diminishes our ability to think more holistically about all of the drivers of performance. 

Finally, embrace the reality that some performance issues are in fact “fit” issues. Whether it is a failure in the interview process or a change in the role, there are a number of situations where the employee is no longer the best for the job. Don’t keep bumping your head against a wall trying to make something work when it just isn’t a match.

Keeping someone in a role that they are not a fit for, and whose success will be limited is unfair to them as well as the balance of your team.