How to Manage Employee Performance: Creating a 1:1 process
In today’s environment supervisors and managers are faced with numerous challenges: managing a multi-cultural, multi-generational workforce, handling employee work/life balance issues, resolving employee conflict, keeping pace with rapid organizational change, and managing within the boundaries of employment laws that didn’t even exist 15 years ago. In addition, leaders today are challenged with effectively communicating corporate vision/strategy and aligning organizational objectives from the top down. Lower level leaders and front line employees are especially challenged when organizational objectives aren’t as clear. Furthermore, managing email and the information overloads is equally as challenging. Many supervisors put off managing employee performance by considering other, more administrative, parts of their job as being more important.
In addition, it is easy for many supervisors today to say that employees “don’t have a work ethic” or “have an attitude.” Unfortunately, the reasons why employee performance suffers and employee negativity exists are frequently due to poor supervisor behavior. Far too often supervisors avoid addressing performance issues and “let things go” because they are “too busy to deal with Fred today.” However, a core component of a supervisor’s job is achieving business results through other people-that means handling the confrontation with the employees on their team/crew. Without regular performance feedback-both positive and for improvement-employees will continue to lack clear direction, will continue to fail in meeting expectations, and negativity will develop among the employee population. This is commonly referred to as “low morale.”
A process called the monthly “1:1” enables supervisors to manage performance on a regular basis. Below is a brief snapshot of a 1:1 meeting between a construction foreman and a member of his work crew. Because of project time constraints, the foreman conducts his normal bi-weekly 1:1 with his employee, Joe, by doing a “walk-n-talk” right on the job site, on the perimeter of the project. The foreman would normally meet with Joe in the company’s infrequently used conference room or occasionally meet Joe for breakfast at the local diner before the work day beings. In this case, the foreman just grabs a soda from the cooler right at the job site, offers one to Joe, and says:
“Hey Joe, how are you doing? Let’s do a quick “walk-n-talk” today for our 1:1. We’re on deadline for this project so we need to stay focused, but I want to make sure we get some 1:1 time in the middle of this. When we met last month you talked with me about wanting to take that advanced certification. Have you looked into that yet? I think it would be a good idea because…”
“Since we’re on the subject of development, I wanted to also share some feedback with you. We got some client comments from the last job that I wanted to pass along to you. The client was really happy with the way you handled the clean up after doing the install work. She said that when she mentioned to you she wanted a “good clean up” you told her you would “make sure it’s completely clean after we’re through and the floors swept.” She said that you were very professional in talking with her and the staff at the school, and indeed the floor was swept. Great job, Joe. I’d like to see you continue working with customers like that. You’re good at it and it makes us all look good!”
“Now, I know we don’t have much time today and for that I apologize, but I do want to talk with you about another thing. I’ve noticed you’ve been getting to the job site about 30-45 minutes late over the past week. I know we talked about this about 3 months ago when you were late a few times. You said back then it was because your truck broke down. I understood your situation, but did let you know that regardless-you needed to be at the job site on time. You got it turned around, but it seems something is happening again since you’ve been late this past week. What is it that’s causing you to be late? (Listen to what he has to say…) I understand your challenges, Joe. It’s tough being a single dad with two kids to raise… You’ve got potential, Joe, and I’d like to see you advance and do even better for your kids… However, this type of behavior is what will hold you back. You’ve got to show you’re dependable. If there’s anything within my control that might help you, let me know. If there isn’t any possible solution on my end, please understand you’ve got to be on time from today forward, Joe, otherwise I’ll have to put a written warning into your file. I don’t want to have to do that, but hopefully I can count on you to turn this around so I don’t have to go there… Okay?”
“With that said, how are things going over here? Are there any obstacles right now that I should know about? Tools, equipment, people?” “Great, I’ll stop back by after I talk with the PM and let you know if we can get more supplies…”
The above is a sample of a brief 1:1 session with a foreman and a construction employee on his crew. Because of time constraints in managing a particular project, the foreman was unable to spare more than ten minutes. However, it was ten minutes of valuable “face time” with the employee.
What would have happened if the supervisor didn’t pull the employee aside & simply walked up to the employee in front of others and just addressed the tardiness issue?
It may have gone something like this…
“Hey, Joe, you need to get your !@%$#%@ in here on time from now on or I’m going to write you up! You understand me?! We can’t run a project if you’re not going to get your lazy !@%$#%@ in here on time. And another thing…If you think you’re going to do that certification thing you asked me about-guess again!”
Far too often supervisors let their frustrations build to the point of “explosion” and without thinking about it publicly humiliate employees in front of others. In the supervisor’s mind, he/she is “handling” a problem. In actuality, the supervisor is alienating ALL of his employees-not just the one with the performance problem. The other employees lose respect for supervisors who don’t understand the golden rule of leadership: “Praise in Public-Discipline in Private.” Failing to follow this very basic rule of leadership will do nothing but continue to chip away at the supervisor’s credibility with the team and create animosity.
Supervisors may wonder why employees won’t “volunteer” to take on assignments, show initiative with a project, or even ask for clarification on work directions. The reason: The employees feel, “Why should I work for that guy/gal? He doesn’t ever think we do anything right… He always picks on somebody in front of the whole crew… If I have questions about what we’re supposed to do, I’ll just get my answers from one of the guys…And…if I make a mistake…Oh, well! I guess that’s Mr. Foreman’s issue to deal with…”
When supervisors don’t hold regular 1:1 discussions with their employees-and treat them with respect 100% of the time-employee performance suffers. And, when employee performance suffers, so does the traction toward accomplishing company goals. Consequently, employee turnover rises and, unfortunately, it isn’t the poor performing employees who leave. More often than not, it is the good employees who leave. Over time, the good employees who arrive on time and do good work become frustrated. They get tired of seeing the poor performers “get away with murder”. And, they get tired of dealing with bosses who fail to treat people with respect and provide timely reward and recognition for their contributions.
So, why do so many supervisors not manage performance by meeting with employees one-on-one?
Many supervisors simply put off the confrontation of meeting with employees one-on-one by using the excuse they are “too busy.” In a nutshell-it’s procrastination and avoidance of confrontation that is the root cause.
In order for supervisors to be respected, they must engage in discussion with employees on a regular basis. At least 30 minutes per month-per employee-is recommended. This time can be spent in shorter increments due to operational constraints; however, the time must be built into a supervisors schedule and not “put off until later.” As later never comes UNTIL performance review time…
A common problem with supervisors is that procrastination all year long in talking with employees leads to really serious problems at year-end. Employees who have not heard about performance issues from a supervisor may become extremely disgruntled and negative when faced with a “bomb shell” of a review.
Also, the other end of the spectrum is the tendency to “sugar coat” a performance review. One of the most legally problematic areas in employment litigation today is the “Meets Expectations” Annual Performance Review for an employee who truly a poor performer and far below expectations. To avoid confrontation with an employee, supervisors will simply complete what he/she refers to as the “paperwork exercise to satisfy HR.” The review boxes get checked/circled and the employee gets a “Meets Expectations” rating.
However, the very same supervisor who just checked the boxes to sugar coat and rush through the review is the very same supervisor who will several months later say, “I want to fire Fred! He’s slow, doesn’t finish his work on time, is a pain in the neck, etc. …” The aftermath of these types of discussions is usually the supervisor complaining to his boss that “HR won’t let me fire Fred…” In reality, the root of the problem lies with the supervisor who failed to do his/her job of holding the employee accountable for poor performance in the first place. This goes back to the 1:1 process and regular documentation of how Fred has been performing/not performing.
The HR departments are typically referred to as “necessary evils” by most managers today because it seems they create obstacles. The primary reason HR departments scrutinize employee discipline and terminations are to avoid litigation for a wrongful discharge claim, usually involving allegations of discrimination. Employment law attorneys frequently comment that their top complaint today is managers who have sugarcoated a review; yet turn around and fire an employee within a relatively short period of time. These types of wrongful discharge cases happen frequently and most are settled out of court, many for more than six figures. The reality is that one legal settlement for a wrongful discharge claim can easily cost upwards of $450,000 This type of pay out for a company, for one mistake in failing to manage an employee properly, can easily negate a leadership team’s achievements for an entire year or more.
Today, “how” goals are accomplished is equally as important as accomplishing them.
Benefits of regular 1:1’s with employees:
q Opportunity to share corporate, department or project vision/mission/goals
q Establish clear, measurable, individual employee goals and objectives
q Gain valuable insight from the employee level regarding impacts to customers, profitability, etc. to avoid negative company impacts
q Provide mentoring/coaching to assist employee in managing peer/client relationships and work processes
q Provide reward and recognition that fosters retention of talent
q Discuss development opportunities for employees career growth & create opportunities for delegation
q Provide feedback for improvement to correct errors or behaviors
q Document performance discussions that build good faith with employees while simultaneously minimizing risk of litigation
Good Supervision Practices that effectively manage employee performance:
1. Handling problems right away–without procrastination.
2. Developing assertive communication skills to give effective feedback and coaching and to hold employees accountable for performance
3. Holding monthly 1:1 sessions with each direct report
4. Creating the 1:1 Manager’s File and documenting coaching notes
5. Preparing and measuring performance all year long for year-end reviews
6. Demonstrating “good faith” consistently to assist employees in improving their
–Natalie Ivey, President & CEO
Results Performance Consulting, Inc. – RPC
Natalie Ivey is President & CEO of RPC, (www.rpchr.com) a Boca Raton-based company that helps employers manage, train, and retain employees. Ms. Ivey is a certified Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR), and has more than twenty years of leadership and HR experience with Fortune 500 organizations.