There have been two topics in South Africa’s news recently that are directly related to the quality of conversations in the workplace.

- reluctance of employers to take in young people because of the labour relations implications in firing those whose performance is not satisfactory

- sick leave abuse that managers seem unable to control.

Neither of these problems would exist if effective conversations about poor performance and bad behaviour were taking place. The principle underlying both situations is that any problem with either poor performance or bad behaviour must be identified and addressed as soon as possible.

In practice most managers prefer to avoid these conversations because they can be sensitive, difficult and hold the possibility of conflict. This however provides tacit assurance that the behaviours can continue…and they do. Performance continues to drop and sick leave continues to be taken. The longer nothing is said, the worse the problems become and the more entrenched the behaviour patterns become.

Three steps can remove the possibility that either poor performance or bad behaviour, such as abuse of sick leave, ever become on-going problems.

Confirm expectations. Every induction to a new position must start with clarification of what is expected of an employee. Standards of performance required can be defined in many ways: targets and measures, KPAs and KPIs, and in detailed performance contracts.

Standards of acceptable behaviour can be more difficult to define but the same principles apply.In the case of sick leave, company benefits should be spelled out and the purpose of the benefit explained clearly.

Speak up sooner. From the start, a manager must speak up as soon as possible with positive feedback to set the tone for a working relationship. If a problem with performance is identified, feedback should be given and the cause of the problem addressed. Obstacles to performance such as lack of tools, resources or authority can be removed. Insufficient knowledge or skill can be improved with training. Motivation problems are more difficult and careful conversations are needed so the manager can get to the root of the problem.

These early conversations do two things. They start to solve the problems before they become ingrained habits and they send a confirming signal about the expectations that are held of the employee.

Apply consequences. The most critical step in managing performance is to hold people accountable. Part of the confirming expectations process is to make people aware of the consequences for non-performance or poor behaviour and to make it clear that these consequences will be applied. The organisation’s labour relations policies will assure that they are applied fairly and consistently.

Conversations which hold people to account need a balance of safety and toughness. Threats, accusations and blame play no part in them. Employees should feel safe to speak up with their view of the situation. Managers must be fair in the way they apply rules and standards.

When expectations are agreed at the start of a working relationship and people are held to account for poor performance and bad behaviour from the moment problems appear,they  never develop into the kind of intractable problems we face at present.

Related posts

Leave a Reply