In my recent article “Judgment Day”, we met Tricia, a client who I had been coaching.
Tricia agreed that performance was being driven by the superstars on her team. She also acknowledged that she had a couple of underperformers that needed to be put on a performance improvement plan. But she still had a lingering, and important, question:
“How do I get my average performers performing?”
That’s a question that needs another question — if you only had to write one review, whose would it be?
Tricia singled out her top performer.
No surprises here. Most managers are happy to write a review of their top performers. It’s easy. Writing the review for your bottom performers, meanwhile, is a lot less enjoyable, but essential. They need a hands-on approach that pulls them into the middle.
When you have someone on performance improvement, you're subject to questions and scrutiny — it’s important to keep things clear and focused. Such a review needs to be an accurate appraisal of performance and to highlight areas for improvement.
What about the average performers?
To accurately assess average performers, consider what kind of conversations you have with them. Some of us have team members who have high opinions of themselves. Every time they sit down and talk about their performance, they think they’re way better than what you actually see. Which is awkward. Others though may have the opposite problem; self-esteem issues. If asked to grade themselves, this group would grade a B or a C, even though for some things they’d be an A.
People with healthy self-esteem feel sure of themselves.
That security is born inside them. It’s dependent neither on their surroundings, nor their accomplishments, nor their success. It’s true these things have some influence, but in no way do they determine self-esteem.
Inflated self-esteem however, starts in childhood. Once an adult, such individuals can choose two different paths.
Some demand praise from those around them. At the same time, they suffer a fear of rejection and failure. Their attitude is like camouflage. Incapable of recognizing their errors, they fail to recognize they have a self-esteem problem. Helping them is a complicated task, because the first step towards change is recognizing there is an issue.¹
Insecure employees are “hard to evaluate, hard to coach, and hard to develop.”
This is the advice of Ethan Burris, an associate professor at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas, Austin. He states: “The challenge is that insecure people are so concerned with how they look and are perceived that they either fail to solicit critical feedback or completely ignore it when it’s given.
This robs them of the opportunity to improve.”
Your interpersonal relationships with insecure employees tend to be more complicated, says Mary Shapiro, a professor at Simmons College School of Management and the author of HBR Guide to Leading Teams. As the boss, “you need to help them build confidence in their own capacity and help them change how they see themselves.” ²
It’s not an easy process.
What should we do with the rest of the team? (This is not a trick question!)
Have them write their own reviews. Let them author the document and you be the editor. You're inviting them to share their thoughts. This will also give you an opportunity to weigh in with your own insights. Of course, you will have to be very specific with each person. You have an opportunity to create an open and honest dialog with each of them.
What though, if you don’t agree with how your people have self-assessed
This is your chance to discuss their strengths and help them focus on their opportunities. A chance to reset expectations. Where individuals have artificially high self-esteem, comment on the areas where they are awesome, and also how they could be superstars if additional areas receive focus as well. For those who are actually performing better than they think, there is a chance to reassure, recognize, and praise. Both conversations focus on the positive and highlight areas of development. This is managing the performance, but leading the behavior.
Not to mention the time it will save you and how effective your conversations can be.
Manage the Performance, Lead the Behavior.
Performance appraisals can be an effective way of managing the metrics and “leading” the right behaviors.
Most organizations have this tool. It’s a matter of implementation. There are times when you will want to take full ownership of the review. You will want to write the review for your top and bottom performers. And there will also be times when you will need to share the process with your average performers. Think of it again as author and editor.
In all cases you’re engaged, but don’t always need to do the heavy lifting.
¹ “Inflated Self Esteem: What are you trying to Hide?” Exploring Your Mind.com
² Rebecca Knight “How to Manage an Insecure Employee” Harvard Business Review