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Why do we avoid taking action?

We can partly blame the pandemic, but it was more than 16 months between haircuts for me. This meant that my hair was a mess… too long and causing headaches, frayed ends, and too many unwanted silver highlights. At one point during the process, my hairdresser gave up trying to remove knots and said she’d just cut them off! I’d left it too long to address the issue of overgrown hair, even though the need to take action was inevitable.

So what’s my haircut got to do with my business? Well, besides the obvious personal brand image improvement, it got me thinking about how many leaders leave it far too long to take action when a team member‘s performance or conduct needs addressing.

Leaders generally avoid confrontation and often employ the ‘head in the sand’ method, hoping if they ignore the issue it will go away. Then, of course, is the ESP plan, whereby the leader drops hints about their expectations (or says nothing at all) and hopes the employee can read minds and will just do what is necessary.

Working with a leader inside a client business.

Recently I have been working with a leader inside a client business who has had a part-time employee within their business/team for over four months and has not once during that time had a deliberate conversation with them about their performance. Now, with only a few weeks before their probation period ends, there has been an ‘incident’ (compounded by a number of niggly issues that have not been raised with the employee), and the leader wants to end their employment under probation. While they are able to do this with limited industrial risk, is it fair? Perhaps there is a valid reason to explain the ‘incident’, but we’re not going to know until we ask. Maybe the ‘incident‘ wouldn’t have even occurred if there had been regular communication and clear expectations.

Another client had been tolerating a poor attitude and inappropriate behaviour from an employee for more than 5 years! Adjusting their approach so as to avoid aggravating the employee and make the situation worse. Since eventually addressing the issue, the employee has elected to leave the business and the owner is relieved that they no longer have to walk on eggshells. This is no way to have a productive relationship between an employee and their leader.

So, when you look around your organisation, are there unresolved issues that should have been addressed weeks or months ago? Are you one of those leaders who puts off the inevitable?

Here are the top five things as leaders we can do to address performance issues early and appropriately:

Address performance issues early and appropriately.
  1. Clearly set expectations. This can be done via a position description or a simple documented list of required outcomes.

  2. Set up regular catch-ups. Make discussing progress and performance a regular and deliberate habit. This mostly prevents the need to set scary ‘performance’ meetings, as most issues can be addressed during a less formal, regular discussion.

  3. Remember that managing a team is a critical part of being a leader. If you only focus on the operational outcomes and never on the people who are there to support the delivery of these outcomes, you will likely have people issues arise and will then miss targets and deadlines.

  4. Be direct, but kind. Pussy-footing around a topic and hoping the other person picks up on your true meaning does not serve you or the employee.

  5. Don‘t be afraid to correct behaviour as a part of performance. How an employee speaks to you or others, how they respond to instructions are a part of their effectiveness as an employee and should be managed and discussed.

Many of the leaders I have supported over the years are kind, compassionate and capable managers; they just lack the confidence and competence to effectively manage their team and have difficult conversations when needed.

Ultimately, putting off these important conversations only makes it worse; and harder to address at a later date. And inevitably it will need to be addressed. Whether because you get frustrated by the employee’s lack of performance or because someone else (a client, another employee) raises a complaint.

If you or your managers need support to build confidence and competence to address performance matters with your/their team, we’re here to help.


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