The secret: Dealing with employee performance issues in The Moment

July 06, 2015

MH_Employee_performance_issues.jpgMost work places have an employee discipline, or as I prefer to call it, a performance management process. And these are pretty standard processes designed to give an employee fair warning before termination. And most managers learn this process as a part of their orientation and they don't typically have a lot of autonomy with it.

However, there is a whole other component to performance management that isn't usually identified or trained, and it is arguably the bigger and more significant part. Addressing performance issues in the moment.

These situations can be anything from failure to clean properly, working too slowly, non allowed use of smartphones, giving subtle attitude to a manager or co-worker, exhibiting disengagement or impatience with clients, or chatting with co-workers rather than supervising a playgroup or work group.

All these things happen in thousands of work places every day and need to be addressed as they happen. They are very significant in the manager and employee's long term development and over all performance. A manager's skill at addressing performance shortcomings in the moment is a huge factor in the workplace culture, employee attitudes, and customer service and quality. In The Moment (ITM) performance management is an art and a science that demand a lot of skill, judgement, and autonomy from the manager. And they are a huge opportunity to give any manager autonomy, mastery and purpose.  We know from David Pink to be what motivates people to achieve awesomeness.

Yet, we very rarely train or talk about it.

Some people are absolute naturals at these "in the moment" performance conversations. But more people aren't. This doesn't mean the person is a bad manager. Not only that, the "naturals" aren't always the best at mentoring new managers on this skill because they are doing what comes naturally, not consciously thinking through it in a way that can be explained to someone else.

A lot of other factors make ITM performance management very challenging. For instance, in many work environments there are always other people around and things happen fast. There isn't privacy or time to think about what you are going to say. Additionally, if the substandard performance is gossip, attitude, or insubordination, it can be that much harder due to the emotional dynamics and insecurities at play. Plus the employee is likely to point out what is wrong with the manager or the business. Because of this many managers fear and do poorly at ITM performance management. And they, the living things the workplace serves, the employees, and the business all suffer as a result.

But the good news is, there is a little known, sure fire formula to make it a success every time.

At the bottom of this blog is a printable cue card that may be printed off and used as a job aid for managers as they work.

The Managing Hearts In The Moment (ITM) Performance Management Formula

Step 1: Identify the failure to meet expectations

This is typically easy enough. The manager sees it or learns of it through a quality check process or other official channel such as their leader or a customer.

In the interest of having an example, we'll say the manager sees child care workers chatting with each other rather than focusing their attention primarily on the children in the play yard.

This brings us to step 2. And step 2 is the secret ingredient. The most critical in making the interaction a successful learning experience that builds connection and improves performance. It is also the most commonly not done. That is why these conversations can go so far awry and people are afraid of them.


Step 2: Listen

Approach the employee by asking an open ended question such as "What happened?" or "What's happening?" or "What went on with so and so yesterday?"

Why an open ended question, if I already know what happened?


1. You don't know what happened from the employees view point. And you are not going to be able to help them learn and improve if you don't see things through their eyes.judge-pointing-finger-300x286.jpg

2. It changes the dynamic from the employee feeling accused to feeling heard and cared about. This preempts defensiveness. And that defensiveness will be a barrier to learning and your relationship. And it can add a lot of drama and hurt to the situation. So, listening will take the whole thing down a much happier, more productive road. (Yeah for loving jobs, staff and managers.)

3. There may be more to the situation than you are aware of. Additional information may guide you to bigger issues to solve, infrastructure needs, or change your assessment of the situation. You can't thoroughly handle the situation without this.

"Hi all. What's happening here?"

The answers may vary depending on how clearly the expectations have been set and consistently enforced and how many times this or other issues have been addressed with a given employee. Based on this determine which point you'll go to next. Note: Typically if you are short staffed the additional load they are carrying will come up at this point. It's OK. It's a chance to manage culture and attitude. And it's good they are talking about it. And it doesn't change their performance expectations.

Step 3: Assist in emotional processing (button a flipped lid) if necessary

Sometimes these are minor and not emotionally charged situations. But if they are, it is important to move the person from their "emotional/fight or flight" brain to their "prefrontal cortex/thinking brain". (I'll try to get a blog up on how to do this exactly. In the mean time you can contact Managing Hearts.)

The employees responses to #2 may guide you to more emotional processing support if they are feeling burnt out, overworked, or under appreciated.

Flickr_MindHeartMED_NastassiaDavis8475095509_ae7755f499_z-e1364592341961.jpgStep 4:Empathize and Analyze

This is where you get to turn your manager brain on and work it! BAM! You can get a huge dose of autonomy, purpose, and mastery all in one fast shot.

  • What happened from the employees prospective? What is going on through their feelings and eyes?
  • Does this incident reveal a need or idea for infrastructure?
  • Does this reveal a gap in a core competency?
  • Can I learn something from this?

Their attitude and replies may indicate that the culture is more focused on the staff's immediate feelings than the children's needs and their significance in the children's lives. It also may indicate a need for manager alignment on policies and stronger tools and job aids.

Step 5: Share your perceptions and feelings

Now, you can say what you saw or heard! (And they'll be able to hear you because you laid the right foundation). Make sure your own lid is not flipped. Be objective and non emotional.

"It looked to me like you might have been focusing more on chatting with each other than the kids?"

Step 6: Explain what you DO need to see

Tie this to the employees sense of belonging and significance if possible.

"I understand the physical and mental intensity of caring for children. And I know how much you care and how capable you are, even though it is the few and the proud that can do this work. And I feel very badly about how short staffed we are and we may have to make some fundamental changes in order to get and stay staffed with great people. And in the mean time we are still responsible for some little people at the most significant time in their development. The things we do, say, and teach them each day will affect their ability to learn, love, and function for the rest of their lives. That is a pretty incredible gift when you step back and think about it. And a big part of that is using the teachable moments to teach them to interact, problem solve, and find kind fair solutions and to include others (Think if your kid was the one being excluded or bullied. Or maybe that was you. Isn't it cool to be the person that helps that kid). So, even beyond preventing injury or damage (it looks like that kid carved an intricate Ninja Turtle in our new bench while you were chatting) this is a very significant time and that is why our expectation is giving our attention to the children at all times."

Step 7: Explain what will happen if the substandard work continues

Hopefully it won't now that you've had a great clarifying conversation where we all understand each other. And you may have gained more insights in how to better support this person and possibly everyone. But just in case, it is good to lay out what would happen.

"This is serious because we all care about being an institution and individuals that do significant things for kids. So if there is continued chatting instead of focusing attention on the kids it could lead to an escalation of the performance management process. But I'm not too worried about it, based on this conversation."

Step 8: Document and file appropriately

Step 9: Reflective leadership

Of course steps 4-6 are very fluid and may happen in any order depending on how things flow. But they all need to happen. And step 9, reflective leadership is very critical habit for the manager to grow and strengthen themselves as a leader, no matter where they are in their learning curve. The better you are the easier and enjoyable your job is. So we want to get stronger at every opportunity.

Below is a cue card of the Managing Hearts In the Moment Performance Management Formula. Free tool for your use in training and managing.

In The Moment Performance Management.pdf


Category: Creating Culture

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