The six most common reasons people don’t have performance discussions


I have been coaching and supporting leaders to get true behavioural change for more years than I care to admit.  When I think about the one thing that will make the life of a leader easier in the long run it’s this:

Have a conversation!

Regular, honest and open performance related conversations.  Don’t wait until it’s the annual performance review, don’t keep putting it off because it’s hard (and let’s be honest sometimes it is really is hard), and please don’t ignore it hoping it will go away.

My mantra is:

Tell people what they do well (so they keep doing it) and tell them (specifically and constructively) what needs to change.

When people don’t do what you want, when you want, be curious not annoyed.  Try and understand the why.  Be curious; if you have provided specific feedback, supported them by providing them with right tools and opportunities to improve and you still aren’t getting your outcomes then find out why.  There is always a reason.  Be careful not to get caught up in “mind reading”.  You know what I mean – the guessing why.  For example; it’s because they are “a millennial and they just think the world owes them a living” or it’s because they are “old and set in their ways”, or because they are “lazy” or because …….

If you come from a place of curiosity and try to understand, then this will change your response from being emotional (frustration, anger etc) to a more objective, analytic response which may actually help you resolve the issue and get the work done the way it needs to be done.

Now don’t misunderstand me, there will be times when you have provided feedback, development opportunities and a person still hasn’t changed and that’s different.  In that case you get to hold people to account.  But in my experience a lot of workplace issues could be avoided if people have the more challenging conversations sooner and both parties are honest and open to hearing each other.

So, having said that here are the top six reasons Managers give me as to why they don’t have regular honest conversations and some recommended solutions:

  1. I don’t have time

    This is probably the most common reason people give for not having performance discussions. Leaders get so busy in the doing and running from meeting to meeting, it is easy to forget about checking in with your team members.  The challenge is, if you aren’t making time for your conversations then it will come back to bite you and then you won’t have a choice – an unresolved issue will erupt (and it will) which will force you to take the time (and lots of it) to resolve the problem.  So instead of proactively managing your time, you will reactively have to manage it.

    Solution:  Prioritise your team performance discussions – it’s not a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have.  As a leader you must praise, recognise and reward your staff and equally support them to develop and be as successful as they need to be their roles.  This means regular performance chats.

  2. It wasn’t the right time

    There were lots of people around, or I couldn’t give it the time it deserved.

    Solution:  Make a time as soon as possible.  It is respectful to take conversations off line – equally important is that it is respectful to manage poor behaviours. Not by publically humiliating people but by having those confidential conversations where you get to say poor behaviour is not OK and then hold people to account.

  3. I hate all the “fluffy stuff”

    Being a psychologist I hear this all the time.  I find this an interesting mindset.  Communication is not fluffy …. Being a good communicator is a critical skill in every leadership position (and I’d like to say is a core life skill).  So it is absolutely important to your success as a leader to learn how to be an effective communicator.

    Have a think about your last organisational engagement/culture survey – what was one of the key takeaways for improvement?  I bet I can guess – people would like to see an improvement in communication.  Luckily it’s a skill and therefore “learnable”.

    Solution:  Learn the skills to being an effective influential communicator.  Learn the different elements and then practice, practice, practice.  Be kind to yourself (know you’ll get it wrong, and yes you’ll say it the wrong way) but know over time and with feedback you will get better and it will become normal.

  4. I don’t know what to do. What if they get emotional?

    People don’t leave their emotions at the door and sometimes people will get upset when you tell them they are not doing as good a job as they thought they were.

    Solutions: Expect emotional responses from people.  Learn how to deal with them effectively (and not by matching and mirroring!).  Move people from an emotional responsive space to being able to hear your message.  An invaluable skill set.  I personally believe that as a leader I need to show up and manage my emotions so that I support someone who is not hearing my intended message.  I also need to hear the message my team members (and customers) are giving me – whatever form that comes in.  My job is to hear their message and help find a solution.  Sometimes, in life people have learnt that by being highly emotional (crying, yelling, swearing) that they get the outcome they want.  If this does happen your job is show them that this is not ok and what you really want is to support them and hear them.

  5. I don’t want to hurt their feelings

    Really?  It’s not very respectful to complain about others behind their back, or to recognise there is a performance gap and you don’t give them feedback and aren’t helping develop them. Or in most cases leave the issue until you become so annoyed about it that you are emotional and your response is not respectful and you blow up and get angry.   People are a lot more resilient than people expect.  Do it respectfully and skillfully.

  6. I’m waiting for their performance review

    Please don’t!
    I was once given some sage advice:  it takes three seconds of courage – just do it!

If you would like to know more about having effective performance discussions, please contact a Livingstones consultant on + 617 3833 1200.

Written by Lisa Paton, Senior Consultant at Livingstones

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