Performance Management (Done Very Badly)

Kathy, an under pressure contact centre manager with extremely high standards for herself and expectations of her team to match, was growing increasingly frustrated with one member of her team, Julie.

Kathy believed Julie wasn’t committed to her job, not interested in achieving targets and was taking far too long to complete incoming customer calls. Kathy’s call duration was twice that of the ‘average’ team member.

Having sought guidance from her Human Resources Manager on how to deal with and resolve her colleague’s performance issue, at 4pm one Friday afternoon, Kathy approached Julie as she signed off her phone for a coffee break and called Julie to an unscheduled one to one meeting. Julie, immediately concerned as to why this meeting had been sprung on her without prior notice or warning, sat nervously and listened to her manager assertively communicate the company’s performance management policy….from the staff manual. Indeed, Kathy presented Julie with her very own personal copy so she could review the contents of the document for herself over the weekend.

Data, Data (and more) Data

Next came the presentation of Julie’s performance statistics on a very colourful A3 size bar chart. Amongst the green and amber, can you guess which colour Kathy used to demonstrate the seriousness of the Julie’s performance issue to her? RED! BIG BOLD, DEEP RED! To strengthen her argument, Kathy took the opportunity to circle performance statistics on the charts which fell below minimum company expectations.

A full fifteen minutes in to this unscheduled, unplanned and perhaps even, unfair meeting, the communication was purely one way traffic. Kathy wasn’t communicating with Julie, she was talking at her. As Kathy quoted company policy, performance management procedures and openly shared her frustration and anger, Julie sat quietly, motionless, with a quiet, calm stare through barely blinking eyes. It appeared Julie had resigned herself to this kind of meeting taking place at some point, even though she had dreaded this moment occurring.

The Loaded Question…Fail!

Then, after taking a deep breath and exhaling deeply and loudly, Kathy asked the question. “What stops you from performing as you’re expected to and as the company pays you to?” A heavily loaded question to which Julie politely, yet assertively responded, “Kathy, when you recruited me you said I would complete a comprehensive induction course to ensure I understood the processes, systems and standards of the job. Have I completed this comprehensive induction course Kathy?” Fear instantly darted across Kathy’s face as the realisation that she had promised a lot, but delivered very little in terms of support for Julie.

Continuing without a response from Kathy, at least a vocal response, Julie, growing in confidence said “You told me I would have a mentor to help me solve problems and become more confident with dealing with customers. Has this mentor been appointed, because I have never met him or her?

The Excuse Survival Technique

Kathy, now being swallowed up in a deep reservoir of panic responded with an attack. “If I have overlooked anything or not supported you as YOU wanted…it’s because my schedule is so busy and that….” Julie, not willing to be diverted from her point interjected “And the one to one coaching sessions YOU PROMISED ME, and that I keep asking you for, where are they Kathy?”

The Storm Clouds Begin To Part

The somewhat eventful, but rather unproductive ‘performance management’ meeting was concluded shortly after this final question from Julie as Kathy burst in to tears and shuttled off to the toilet to compose herself. The fact that Kathy was the enabler of poor performance had never crossed her mind. But now it had – it changed everything!

The following week, Kathy and Julie met once again, but this time it was a scheduled and well organised meeting. Over the weekend, Kathy had reflected on how she had contributed to Julie’s level of performance. She realised that she hadn’t been an ‘enabler’ of good performance; her preferred ways of thinking, communicating and managing had resulted in her becoming a ‘disabler’. Thankfully, Julie did begin to receive structured support, as did every other member of Kathy’s team.

Wouldn’t It Be Wonderful If…

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could share with you that Kathy went on to be a super fantastic manager? Well, she kind of did! She explored how to develop emotional intelligence competencies including self awareness and self management and authentic empathy.

Alongside her technical competence, she regularly invited her team members to speak their truth to her. ‘Sugar coating’ bad news and withholding truth is a problem which continues to strangle the life out of organisations, but, Kathy realised how much valuable feedback she just wasn’t receiving simply because her team members thought she would either not listen, completely ignore, or simply reject their comments.

Performance during the next 90 days soared to new heights. Kathy was awarded a more senior management role (taking on a supposedly ‘disengaged group’), whilst Julie was offered a team leader role, but chose to decline the offer as it would take her away from what she loved doing – helping customers.

The Lessons?

  • Performance management is beneficial when done up the management ladder rather than solely downwards.  Invite authentic feedback on how you are doing and what you could do even better, from people you trust to be candid with you.
  • When commitments of support are made to employees, but then not delivered, don’t be shocked if they don’t perform at or near their best for you.  You are part of the problem; become part of the solution.
  • Appointing people to management roles purely or largely because they were good technicians in a non management role is as ridiculous and delusional as trying to win the National Lottery without buying a ticket.  Commit to learning the ‘softer’ side of people management and you’ll soon notice a positive difference.

Does your organisation promote a performance management approach that engages, equips and enables employees at all levels to achieve such a positive outcome as Kathy and Julie did? Or do you prefer to simply send managers on a meaningless performance management training course which simply doesn’t address the key underlying issues?

*The details above are factual however, names of parties involved have been changed. Permission to publish this article was obtained from the parties involved and the employer.

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