An employee, who up to this point has done a good job, starts making mistakes. The manager reaches the last straw, throws up her hands, and asks me, “Can you help me figure out why he’s doing this?!”

No.

But I listen to the story. She briefly describes the mistakes – he forgot an important item for a training, he didn’t submit the right numbers, etc. Then the manager does what almost every manager I’ve worked with does; she starts proposing ideas about why the employee is doing what he’s doing.

This is one of the biggest hurdles for managers to overcome in dealing with performance issues. They work hard to figure it all out before they give feedback. Not a good idea! Why? Because all of these assumptions and opinions could be dead wrong, yet they often influence the words used in the feedback. Like this:

“Hey, I see you’re not focused and I know you’ve got a lot going on right now with the kids going back to school and your commute and all these new trainings starting so what’s going on because I’m concerned that this will be an ongoing problem so how can I help you get focused?”

No. Put all those opinions and assumptions in your pocket because that’s not feedback. And holy crap, use some punctuation! Better:

“I’d like to talk with you about your recent performance. I noticed in the last week you didn’t bring a key item to a training, the figures you submitted were incomplete, and you missed Thursday’s meeting. I’m concerned because this is not your usual good performance. Let’s talk about it.”

This is actually how the manager handled it. In our debrief she said the employee listed off several problems going on that were making him crazy. Some were opinions she had had originally – and some were a surprise. The manager, instead of positioning herself as she-who-sees-and-knows-all, put herself in the role of listener and facilitator. Once the employee got it all out, they figured out some workable solutions.

Stop trying to figure it all out beforehand! It’s not your business. Seriously. Your business is noticing when something is off and there is an impact from it. Then you organize your three sentences: The topic, an objective description or example, and the impact or concern. You remember your punctuation. You stop yourself before starting your messages with, “Hey.” And you put your focus on listening to people so you can learn what’s in the way of their performance, then facilitate a problem-solving discussion to get it fixed.

That’s good performance management right there.

Christine is a public speaker, coach, facilitator, and performance management geek.