Overcoming the Fear of Managing Performance

Overcoming the Fear of Managing Performance

Overcoming the fear of managing performance is something managers face. The key role of a manager is to get the job done to the required standard, by determining and managing performance. This can be a worry for many when it comes to dealing with under performers.

The minimum performance you allow is the maximum you can expect!

Fears and Concerns

Honesty – Truth or Lie?

Too often a blind eye is turned to underperformance because managers do not trust their own capabilities or are afraid of the consequences. On a recent workshop, participants identified some of their fears or concerns. These were:

  1. Not being liked.
  2. Having a difficult conversation.
  3. It’s going to be uncomfortable.
  4. Not knowing the right words to use.
  5. Not having the right structure.

FEAR can be False Evidence Appearing Real.  You can question how much of your fearful thinking is irrational and without basis. What evidence do you have that these concerns will materialise and what can you do to prevent them? It is also having enough self-belief that you can cope. Preparation and practice help allay these fears.

Overcoming the Fear

Here are some ideas to overcome these fears.

Not being liked.  You may not be liked for bringing under performance to a person’s attention. There are times when you will have to deliver bad news and not be liked for it, but that goes with the job. How you deliver the news will impact on how that person feels about you. What is important is whether you can hold their respect by treating them professionally, fairly, consistently, and respectfully.

Having a difficult conversation. If you are thinking it is going to be difficult, this will impact on your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Certainly expressing to the employee that you need to have a ‘difficult’ conversation can easily raise defensiveness from the start. You can change your mindset and call it a necessary, or important, or serious conversation. You can choose to see it as a transformational conversation to help the employee improve. It is equally important not to belittle it by saying you need a ‘chat’.

It’s going to be uncomfortable. The more you prepare and practice these skills, the less uncomfortable it will become. As with seeing it as difficult, your mindset and approach will influence the outcome.

Not knowing the right words to use. Planning and preparation are key. Fail to plan, plan to fail.  Be clear what outcome you want and choose your response/words/tone to achieve that. You can practice it with a trusted colleague and check out their response to the words you use. Be careful to choose words that are constructive, non-judgmental and blame free. It is important to avoid criticising and remember, there is no such thing as ‘constructive criticism’

Not having the right structure. Again, it comes down to planning and preparation. Consider the right approach and perhaps check with HR or company policy. An outline is:

  • Deal with underperformance as it happens. Don’t hope it will go away.
  • The company’s direction and vision with defined values and behaviours are the key starting points in setting expectations and are clear. People need to know their responsibilities/expectations from recruitment, induction and onwards. They may need reminding.
  • You need to manage expectations – your own and theirs, and check that these are realistic.
  • Consider how you might be contributing to the situation. Have you done all that is required as a manager?
  • Be clear what outcomes you are looking for from the meeting. Is it an improvement in the person’s knowledge, skills, or attitude? Is it an informal or formal conversation?
  • Stay focused on your goals during the meeting.  
  • Have factual evidence of underperformance.
  • Keep it private and leave any ‘mental baggage’ you may be carrying at the door. Have an open mind. Avoid blame or getting angry.
  • Use the right constructive communication. Seek first to understand and then be understood. What are their perceptions and needs? Use insightful questions. You may need to challenge.
  • Allow appropriate time to have meaningful and fair feedback.
  • Encourage them to set SMARTA (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Resourced, Timed with start and finish deadlines and AGREED goals) for improving performance. This helps accountability.
  • Provide the necessary support of further training/coaching if necessary.
  • Make the consequences of not complying clear and ensure you have senior management backing for this.
  • Record the discussion. If it isn’t recorded, it didn’t happen.
  • Have an agreed balanced approach to monitoring and follow through. Review progress.
  • It is important to have a strategy for celebrating success when they improve.  
  • Repeat the process if required and know when it has become a disciplinary matter.  

Making it Work

Here are some practical experiences of what does and doesn’t work.

What worksWhat doesn’t work
Bringing insight or realisation of the issues.
Getting understanding of the seriousness of the impact their performance is having.
Listening to their reasons/needs/solutions.
Showing empathy.
Reducing defensiveness.
Empowering them to find solutions for themselves rather than telling them.
Prioritising the key aspects to improve.
Having the evidence.
Telling them what to do.
Getting angry – starting conflict.
Talking like a parent to child – patronising.
Making irrational or subjective comments.
Using wrong tone of voice.
Rushing it/ lack of preparation.
Being over friendly, downplaying the issue.
Having too many issues at once  

“Performance management is a process for establishing shared understanding about what is to be achieved, and an approach to managing and developing people in a way which increases the probability that it will be achieved in the short and longer term.”

Michael Armstrong

Give Praise When It’s Due

It is equally important to give praise for good performance. The more you praise the behaviours you do want, the more you will see them. A good ratio is 3 praise to one negative feedback. Some managers fear giving praise, as they think it will make people big-headed or be mis-interpreted!

“Once in a century, a man may be ruined or made insufferable by praise.  But surely once in a minute something generous dies for want of it”

John Masefield

It is important to never lose sight of your goal, which is to improve performance, so if you would like to learn more about overcoming the fear, then please contact me. Our follow on workshop on November 10th is  about establishing Accountability Without Blame.

Also published on Medium.

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