Helping Employees Succeed: Managing Below-Average Performance

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Helping Employees Succeed: Managing Below Average Performance

Whether you work for a Fortune 500 company or a small mom-and-pop machine shop, chances are performance reviews aren’t very high up on the list of your employee’s favorite things to do at work. Whatever the shortfalls, perceived or real, of the performance management process at your organization, the angst around reviews is only magnified when working through the process with employees who receive less than stellar ratings.
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Conflict Resolution Tips Every Manager Should Know

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Conflict Resolution Tips Every Manager Should Know conflict resolution manager

Working in any organization means working with people that have a variety of opinions, perspectives, and/or work styles. And while organizations who foster such diversity are the strongest type of organizations, it doesn’t always mean everyone will get along 100% of the time.

Managers need to be able to recognize when problems are brewing and feel comfortable and equipped to work with staff members in resolving these issues.

Below we discuss why it’s important for managers to understand how to resolve problems that occur in the workplace, what are some common problems, and four conflict resolution skills that every manager should know.
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A Brief Guide to Coaching Employees

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Coaching is a development tool that many organizations are using to enhance performance and behavior at all levels of the organization - from employees to key leaders. Coaching has been found to lead to improved work performance, business management, team effectiveness, self confidence, relationships, and communication skills.

Coaching Defined

Coaching is a one-on-one developmental tool that can be highly effective in developing leaders and high potential employees, changing behavior (or addressing derailing/poor behavior), improving leadership and managerial effectiveness, and enhancing performance. Coaching is usually focused on one of three areas: performance, development, or executive/leadership ability.
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Top 5 Trends in Training & Developing Talent

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Training and development is a critical aspect of an organization's talent management strategy. Every organization needs to invest in it to attract and retain talent and grow their employees' knowledge base and capabilities. Here are five current trends influencing training and development.

Trend #1: Training is a means of keeping, developing, and rewarding talent.

Training has evolved into not only a means of developing employees’ skills, but also a strategy to retain, develop, and reward key talent. In ERC's 2012 Talent Management Practices Survey, the majority (57%) of organizations say they use training and development opportunities as a strategy to retain top or key talent and 61% use it as a way to reward and recognize employees.
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5 Common Types of New Leaders

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5 Common Types of New Leaders

Some employees aspiring to be managers or leaders struggle at first when they take on these new roles. Here are 5 common types of employees that grapple with management and leadership responsibilities, and suggestions for how to help them in their roles.

1. The high-achiever

Characteristics:

This is a leader who excelled at their previous roles, but is fearful of taking on more responsibility outside of their comfort zone. Their anxiety about performance tends to get in the way of their effectiveness, especially in leadership roles.

They can tend to get too caught up in tasks, believe that nobody can do the job as well as them, fail to distinguish between urgent and less important priorities, obsess about how they compare to others, take few risks, and starve themselves of personal growth into new areas because of their fears of failing.

While their style may have been effective in previous roles, when they move into management or leadership roles, they find themselves frustrated, unable to produce, and under-confident in their new jobs.

How to develop:

Unfortunately, this individual will need to experience failure and adversity to grow, even though it may be a difficult experience for them. That’s part of being a leader.

They should be challenged to grow personally, even if just incrementally over time. Expose this employee to new things gradually—not all at once.

Help them develop strategies to attain high performance in their new role because achievement is important to these employees. Praise them as they grow in their new role and have small successes. This will help develop confidence that they can perform well as a leader.

2. The technical expert

Characteristics:

This individual has solid technical strengths for which they were promoted into a management leadership role, perhaps in mathematics, IT, or engineering.

The technical expert, however, over-relies on their technical skills (often because they enjoy using these skills) which are less important in their new role.

Their technical strengths are so strong, that they may lack soft-skills or view them as less important to leading others than technical competencies. They tend to struggle with communicating, developing and training employees, and delivering results through others. While they are well-respected for their technical competence and are a rich resource of knowledge, they tend to struggle with imparting this knowledge on others that they manage or lead. They also may have trouble building a team and achieving the same results through others.

How to develop:

This individual may need to weaned off their technical tasks gradually. Having them let go of all of their technical responsibilities too quickly may lead to disengagement in their new role.

Help them share technical knowledge with their staff, through knowledge sharing tools, processes, and interactions (such as mentoring, training, etc.).

Knowledge and expertise may be so engrained in these employees that you will have to explore tasks thoroughly. Lastly, spend more time training them on soft skills, especially communication, team-building, and engaging others.

3. The overconfident manager

Characteristics:

These employees may be less receptive to learning how to lead, thinking that they know “all there is to know” about leadership. They may have even already had some management or leadership experience, and are usually charismatic, out-going, and dominant, but their confidence tends to get in the way of their success.

Frequently, over-confidence may lead these types of employees to exert too much command and control, be too bossy, and focus less on participation and collaboration with their teams.

They tend to like to receive credit for their team’s accomplishments, but may push blame for failures on others. They may try to gain influence by using their title or status, and not by engaging others. They like holding power and authority, sometimes to a fault, which can lead to micromanagement.

How to develop:

This individual benefits from successful role models who display appropriate leadership behaviors, such as senior leaders. Usually their approach to leadership stems from how they’ve been managed in the past or inaccurate perceptions of how leaders should act, so showing them other ways of leading can be helpful—especially if it’s a prominent person in the organization whom they respect.

Experiential learning and training is also crucial for these employees, who often need to see the negative results of their actions and behaviors. Employee feedback (such as an employee survey or 360) may also help the leader understand how their actions affect the engagement and perceptions of their staff.

4. The friend

Characteristics:

This is a leader that is congenial, well-liked, and has above average soft-skills. They are extremely supportive of their employees and approach management interactions more like coworker relationships. This individual refrains from having tough or crucial conversations with their employees and fails to acknowledge or manage conflict, frequently avoiding it altogether.

They often don’t manage performance well, and put up with poor results to maintain a positive relationship. In essence, they focus on being their employees’ friend, rather than their manager or leader. 

In fact, some of these leaders may be managing previous coworkers or friends of theirs. They may even engage in behaviors that are considered unprofessional for a leader, such as participating in informal social activities, becoming Facebook friends with their subordinates, or gossiping about other employees.

How to develop:

This individual doesn’t necessarily need training in soft skills, but does need training on core management principles, such as performance management, feedback, and conflict management.

These will be uncomfortable topics for this individual that you may need to address multiple times.

They may also need to be coached on how to balance creating supportive relationships and interactions with their employees with results and getting the job done.  Some will also need to better understand the role of the leader and how to act professionally with their employees.

5. The inexperienced

Characteristics:

Perhaps this is a young employee, a “high potential,” or an individual with no experience supervising or managing others. It’s not that this employee is a bad leader per say, they just don’t have the knowledge, skill, or experience yet to lead. Usually these types of leaders are promoted into leadership roles by necessity or because they have exceptional talents and potential that the organization finds valuable. If promoted before well-groomed, expect these employees to make mistakes—and lots of them.

How to develop:

This individual should usually be developed into a leadership role over time, rather than promoted and then trained. They may benefit from not only management and leadership development programs and curriculum, but also mentorship.

Through mentoring relationships with other leaders and managers, these individuals will learn from those that have plenty of experience managing and leading others, which can balance out their experience gaps.

These individuals will need on-going development as they grow into leaders—not just an initial training program.

Whether your current or aspiring leader is a high-achiever, technical expert, overconfident manager, friend, inexperienced, or a combination of any of these, learn to recognize the challenges your employees face in new management and leadership roles and provide them support to not only help them be more successful, but also enjoy their new roles.

Leadership Development Training Programs

Leadership Development Training

ERC offers a variety of leadership development training programs at all levels of the organization, from senior leadership teams to mid-level managers to first time managers and supervisors.

Train Your Employees

3 Lessons for Managers

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As managers, most problems stem from what you don’t say, what you say, and how you say it.  Here are three (3) important lessons to help you deal with these inevitable communication issues that take place within your team.

1. What You Don’t Say

Have you considered how what you don’t say can affect the performance of your staff? Lack of clarity can exist when expectations suddenly change, goals aren’t defined, the team’s direction isn’t clear, or the specific results that you want were not communicated well. People don’t know how to get where you want them to be if you don’t tell them.

Clarity also includes omissions – what you don’t say – such as not communicating the “why” or rationale behind decisions. Depending on the decision, a lack of “why” can generate unproductive anxiety and resistance. Employees begin to fill in cracks of information with their own perceptions and suspicions. People may believe that you don’t trust them, or rather, they lose trust in you.

Omissions can also occur in other daily interactions – when you don’t say thank you, give praise, say hello each day, or take an interest in your team. People quickly jump to conclusions that they aren’t appreciated, liked, or supported.

2. What You Say

What you say to your team is significant. The language you choose – its appropriateness, honesty, specificity, and professionalism – can send a variety of messages. It can be the difference in whether an employee perceives their work environment to be hostile or supportive, so tread carefully with the words you choose.

For example, we may feel the need to direct or dictate all the answers to ensure that our agendas or results get met.  But dictating makes people feel powerless and may send the message that you don’t think they are smart or talented enough to come up with the solutions themselves. Coaching, however, helps employees learn how to solve problems and manage themselves by using questions to guide employees through problems and find their own answers.

Also, saying too much can damage our effectiveness. Dominating conversation and not asking for employees’ feedback or input or considering their points of view are all ways we may say too much. We may send the message that their opinions and ideas don’t matter, or that we value our own views more than theirs.

Additionally, avoid emotional language and dishonesty – two issues that get many managers in trouble. Inevitably, you’ll find yourself in a conversation with an employee and may be tempted to get angry or use inappropriate language to convey your viewpoint. Maintain a calm demeanor and deal with the issue constructively. Finally, while some lies and partial truths may have good intentions and you may believe that you are protecting the employee, lying can have devastating consequences for your credibility as a manager. Don’t tell employees one thing, then do another. You’ll lose the trust you need to get things done and ruin your relationships in the process.

3. How You Say It

As a manager, problems frequently stem not from what you said, but how you said it. Consider how your non-verbals (body language, tone, emotion, eye contact, etc.), communication style, and level of interest affects your team’s productivity and performance. Did your impatient or intimidating tone, poor attitude, silent treatment, closed-off body language, or frequently closed door send negative messages to your team?  Did you listen well to your employee or did you ignore their viewpoint? Did your non-verbals match the message you were trying to send? Also, be aware of your attitude’s impact on your team: bad day for you, bad day for them. Moods have been found to influence productivity, morale, and engagement.

Similarly, the communication styles of your team are likely diverse.  One employee may respond well to oral directions, while another may need written directions or process diagrams. One-size does not fit all when it comes to communicating with your employees so either cater to the styles of your team by responding differently with each individual or communicate the same information using different forms (such as an email and in-person meeting). If you don’t know the style of your team, ask them about their preferred communication preferences or observe how they respond to different forms of communication. But always remember to handle sensitive issues in-person.

Great managers know that solid communication practices can make or break their team’s performance and their relationships with their team members, so always consider what you say, what you don’t say, and how you say it.

Additional Resources

ERC Supervisory Training

Training for Communication Skills ERC offers and specializes in a variety of training in communication and management/ supervisory topics. Many of these topics are available in our Workplace Center and on-site, customized to your organization’s needs. For more information about these offerings, please contact ckutsko@yourerc.com.

5 Common Management Challenges (and How to Overcome Them)

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5 Common Management Challenges (and How to Overcome Them)

Trainers often get the chance to see firsthand what can happen when a breakdown in communication occurs between employees and their supervisors.

A woman once approached an ERC Trainer during a break in the training session who was very emotional and teary eyed. In her seven years with the company, not once had her boss asked how her weekend was. Her boss was a driver, with a direct, ‘Don’t waste my time, I don’t want to know about your personal life’ kind of attitude.

At a superficial level, that seems fine but employees sometimes feel they need interpersonal communication to achieve a certain level of trust. If an employee feels that their supervisor doesn’t care about them, they can become disengaged and even tune the boss out.

Maintaining good lines of communication is just one challenge managers and supervisors face. The management of conflict and performance, and management of potential liabilities can be tough hurdles to clear, too.

Failing to address any of these issues can lead to damaging consequences for an organization. Companies, though, can be proactive in avoiding these pitfalls through the support and development of their managers.

Here are 5 common challenges for managers and supervisors—and some practical ways to deal with them.

Communicate.

Managers frequently are not aware of the quality of their communication or, as the above example illustrates, how their communication or interpersonal style are perceived by their employees.

You can help managers understand their unique communication and interpersonal style and how to “flex” this style in different situations by providing communication templates, scripts, tips or checklists.

Engage in role-play or dialogue with the manager to help them practice their skills and identify opportunities for improvement. Additionally, educate managers on common communication breakdowns and how to avoid them and encourage managers to notice signs of communication problems (misunderstandings, consistent performance problems, etc.).

When all else fails, provide a personal coach if communication problems persist

Resolve conflict.

Many managers ignore problems and do not directly address conflicts with their employees or work team.

Whether these are performance problems, conflicts among team members, issues of trust or personality clashes, managers are challenged to confront and address problems head-on and as they emerge, diffuse employees’ feelings and emotions about the problem, listen to both parties’ needs and desires, derive win-win solutions that lead to more productive and positive work relations, and prevent conflict in the future by nurturing positive coworker relationships and recognizing potential for conflict or problems early.

Manage performance.       

Managers must balance meeting goals, managing workloads and motivating employees. These issues, coupled with the fact that many managers are ill-equipped to provide regular and constructive feedback and may not understand the importance of documenting performance, can make managing performance challenging.

To support them, build on-going performance feedback into the performance management process to ensure accountability. Create an easy method for managers to document performance like a database, log, or diary. Provide support tools for managers such as rewards, recognition, training, and development to recognize and build performance. Most importantly, train managers in topics such as performance management, coaching, and feedback since many will have had no experience with these.

Handle protected employees.

Most managers are not well-versed in administering ADA, FMLA and other laws that protect certain groups of employees, but unknowingly find themselves managing an employee who requires an accommodation, leave of absence or falls into a protected class.

These situations need to be handled delicately due to their legal nature, so make managers aware of:

  • Legal basics such as conditions or disabilities that are protected
  • How to determine essential functions and reasonable accommodations
  • Requirements associated with FMLA (eligibility, length of time, etc.)
  • Types of employees that are protected under law (gender, race, national origin, etc.)
  • Hiring and interviewing liabilities (questions to ask/not ask, etc.)

Administer policies fairly and consistently.

One of the most common challenges for managers is treating employees fairly and consistently. A manager may allow policies and rules to be disregarded by some employees and not others—or may disregard employment policies altogether. “Stretching” the rules for some employees can open up a range of potential liabilities and perceptions of bias and favoritism that have negative far-reaching effects in the workplace.

Be sure to write clear policies and let managers know when changes have been made. Set clear criteria for making employment decisions, particularly where managers need to distinguish between employees (recognition, reward, development, etc.). Also, clearly differentiate between the policies in which managers have discretion to implement and those in which they do not.

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