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Play 11 - Promote a healthy culture of accountability with empathy and respect

Performance issues are one of the most difficult challenges to deal with as a supervisor. When someone is under-performing, there could be any number of reasons why. There could be personal issues at home taking place, a medical issue, a lack of training/support you are not aware of, etc. Many people feel shame or embarrassment when asking for help. Others may not even realize there is a problem. As a supervisor, you want to support your team members and be aware of what is going on with them as unique human beings.

This is not to say you should dig into personal details (especially in the case of anything medical related - please consult and work with HR for that!). However, it helps to demonstrate how team members can come speak with you, and that you will actively listen to and support them. This can be accomplished by explicitly communicating that you will hold folks, including yourself, accountable to a clear set of expectations, and that folks should speak with you if they have any concerns about themselves, other team members, or even yourself if those expectations are not being met.

If a situation arises where a team member is not meeting expectations, start by asking yourself the following questions to help ground an initial conversation:

  • Is this a new task or an updated task, and therefore do they need training and guidance?
  • Did they receive clear instructions and expectations of outcomes?
  • Do they have the right tools for the job?
  • Did you check on how they are doing?

Oftentimes, you will have to work through performance management issues as if you’re peeling back layers of an onion, and these questions can serve as a good starting point. Approach these conversations from a place of empathy and respect for the individual. Make it clear that while you’re holding them accountable and they need to take ownership on making changes, you are there to work with them and support them as they correct the issue.

If this is a new employee or team member you’re working with, there is likely some element of not having clear expectations set and/or communicated. Focus on setting clear expectations so that performance can be tied to facts, not your opinion. Additionally, create the same expectations for everyone on the team - not just a select group of people. Ensure those expectations are documented and refer to them often, especially as individuals enter and leave the team. This is an opportunity to build up trust and rapport by reiterating how important accountability is, what the expectations are, and that you are there to help.

If this is an established employee on the team, then another important factor to consider is if poor performance has become a consistent pattern or if it’s out of character.

In either case, digging into the matter may yield some surprising insights:

  • The individual was simply unaware and the matter needed to be brought to their attention
  • There was a breakdown in process and/or communication, and it wasn’t a performance issue at all
  • The beginnings of a pattern may be presenting themselves that will require further action and support
  • The individual did not have access to the appropriate resources to perform their job

In the case of a pattern emerging, and little to no improvement being made (or things becoming worse) after multiple conversations (and perhaps training), then it is time to pursue formal corrective measures. Involve your supervisor and HR as soon as possible, so you are operating with the proper guidance and support.

Action Items

  • Create a record to document actions and conversations related to the issue as you go
  • Involve your supervisor and HR to make sure you are operating with appropriate guidance and support; you never need to take action alone when it comes to performance issues
  • Prepare for conversations with an under-performing employee: consider role-playing with another supervisor the questions and conversation you would like to have
  • Send a follow-up message after performance conversations, documenting expected action items and timelines

Play 11 Reflection Questions

Play 11 Case Studies

  • One of the employees on your team has been considered a “star” performer. The employee is very positive and enthusiastic and has been acknowledged multiple times for their performance. Other team members have voiced the employee’s willingness to help with projects no one else wants to handle. Lately, you have noticed that the employee has missed several deadlines and has left tasks incomplete. The employee still thinks they are doing well although you have discussed their recent performance. What are the next next steps you will take?
  • Several employees come to you one day to inform you that one of your team members is not completing tasks for a high priority project. Because the tasks have not been completed, it is impacting their work. Although you have facilitated several 1:1’s with this team member weekly to discuss the project’s progress, you perform a thorough investigation and it appears that this team member has been providing false information regarding the project’s status and what they have done to move the project forward. What are the next steps you will take?
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