As discussed in last issue’s article, 90 per cent of the time what you need to know for performance management (PM) are the four f’ing things (frequency, fodder, feedback, and followup). The remaining 10 per cent is all about critical conversations, training, and discipline and termination.
Critical conversations:Talking to employees about poor performance can be tough. We’re often afraid that these conversations can upset the apple cart or cause a display of emotion, so we avoid them. Don’t! As the employee’s manager, it’s your job to deal with the performance problems. These are critical conversations (CC).
CCs are high-stake discussions. In performance management, employment and people relationships are at stake during CCs. Remember, CCs are respectful. They are calm. And they are about the behaviour, not the person.
For example, telling the employee they have a poor attitude is a bad idea (and not just because they may tell you what they think of your opinion). Attitude is about the person. Discuss the behaviour. State facts, such as: two out of five days this week you were late, you overloaded the grain truck because you were texting, and you never checked the cows when asked.
Once you’ve put the poor performance (the behaviour) on the table, make sure the employee knows the expectation. Expectations should be specific, i.e. driving down the lane at 8 is not starting work at 8. Starting work at 8 means that you’re ready to work, your gear is ready, and you’ve finished your morning smoke.
Identify what needs to be changed. Then work towards a collaborative solution.
A well-executed CC will strengthen your relationship with your employee. If you’ve been clear about the expectations and provided feedback all along, this CC should not be a surprise.
CCs help determine if the poor performance is a result of non-culpable or culpable behaviour — the difference between “I would if I could” and “I can but won’t.” Sometimes there is a third category, temporary culpable ( “I can but I didn’t because I didn’t think you noticed or cared.”). If the poor performance is a result of non-culpable (I would if I could) behaviour, training may be a solution. If the behaviour is culpable (I can but won’t), then discipline or termination may be required.
Being late and texting while working are examples of culpable or temporary-culpable behaviour. Now that the employee knows you notice and care, the performance will probably change. Make sure you talk about the consequences if the changes do not happen. For example, will the pay be docked? Will there be discipline or termination?
In the case of not checking the cows, you may discover that it is non-culpable behaviour. They didn’t check the cows because they didn’t know what to do. Training might be the consequence.
Training:Training can be the solution to poor performance. First, know what it is you want to improve. Of course you want to change an employee’s behaviour so their performance improves, but tie that changed behaviour to an operational outcome, such as reduced cost of feed errors, improved efficiency in pesticide application, etc.
You will know if the training has been effective when the employee not only has learned something, but also has adopted behaviours that positively impact the operational outcome you identified. This approach to training not only solves the performance problem but now can be considered an investment with a return.
Terminating the employment relationship:Sometimes poor or unacceptable performance needs a strong consequence to drive home the point that the performance must change. When the employee or employee relationship is worth saving, consider discipline. Progressive discipline (discipline that progresses in severity) can be an effective tool to drive home a strong message. It also is a strong consequence.
Progressive discipline can be a discipline meeting, short to longer suspension without pay, and termination. There are times when performance is so bad, behaviour so unacceptable, or the employment relationship so unsalvageable that termination of the employment relationship (firing) is the answer.
Firing an employee is never easy and it shouldn’t be. Make that decision when you’re not emotional (be sure it is a rational decision). Once you’ve made the decision, act on it. Delaying only causes you sleepless nights and delays the inevitable. Termination can be the best answer if the employee is not right for the job or the operation.
When terminating an employee, be calm and firm. Treat them with respect, follow the labour laws, don’t engage in a debate, and inform them of termination consequences. Some of those consequences are pay in lieu of notice, receiving a record of employment, turning in keys and passwords, etc.
Performance management has its challenges, but it is your job, and you can deal with those challenges using CC, training, discipline or termination.CG
Leah Knibbs is the owner of Knibbs/ associates hr consulting and a partner in Knibbs/associates sourcing people. Both organizations provide HR services to agriculture organizations. Knibbs describes herself as a professional HR consultant who had two miniature goats as pets. Contact her at [email protected] or 306-861-9864.