Go Fix It!

I have recently worked with an executive who needed to more clearly establish and enforce expected performance standards for the staff members she supervises. She made good progress, replacing her previously hazy thoughts with a sharp vision of what she expects.

One of the insights she found helpful was to expand her expectations beyond measures of technical performance to include employee attitude and interaction style – factors that can be every bit as detrimental to a company’s success as a failure in the technical aspects of a job description.

Having clarified expectations, we next specified (a) the steps she would take to assure staff members fully understood the standards, and (b) the methods she will use to regularly monitor employee performance against those expectations – measures that she can use with confidence because she believes them to be reliable and valid.

We then moved the discussion to the next aspect of the leadership process: how she was going to hold staff members accountable for achieving and sustaining the required standards. My client is conflict averse, so I knew that this step would be difficult for her to implement. To help encourage her to actively protect her now clearly articulated standards, we spent some time reviewing a few key leadership MindSets: a) leaders should be relentlessly committed to the pursuit of excellence, b) good staff should have a right to work with other good staff, and c) leaders should be committed to furthering the growth and success of their colleagues. Each of these MindSets emboldens us to address performance issues.

I thought we were making progress – maybe even good progress! Then last week I received an almost giddy call from my client telling me that she had just held a conference with one of her staff members who had not been meeting her now more clearly outlined expectations. She had used MindSet’s SEA of Possibilities to analyze the reason for the staff member’s failure (it was “E,” effort), and used MindSet’s Four Steps for planning and executing the performance conference. She felt good about the outcome: the staff member had acknowledged their failure to live up to the expected standards and promised to make better efforts in the future.

I was proud of her, BUT I also realized that I had failed to coach her on one important additional step that should be part of many such remedial conferences. Now that I have rectified my oversight with her, let me share it with you.

Employee improvement may well occur when an employee acknowledges a mistake; however, considerably more growth will result when employees are asked to take active steps to fix the repercussions of their error.

Whenever an employee’s poor performance has had a negative impact on other employees, a discipline conference should not end with an acknowledgement of the error and a commitment to avoid a repeat performance. Good supervisors will extend the conference to include the creation of an action plan the employee will take to fix the damage that has been done to the employee’s relationships and/or reputation with colleagues.

The plan should usually entail having the employee go directly to those whom they have let down. The script should be straightforward: a) confirm that they are aware of the problem they created, b) express their determination to improve, and when appropriate, c) ask their colleagues for ongoing feedback and support.

This remedial process offers a learning and growth opportunity for the offending staff. It can be as simple as an apology to other team members for having arrived late to work. It can be as significant as meeting with the Vice President of the division to make sure there is no confusion about who dropped the ball on an important project, and to give her an assurance that it won’t happen again – a visit the immediate supervisor may offer to attend for morale support.

This Go Fix It MindSet has two significant benefits. The public expression of regret and commitment to improve puts down a marker making it more likely that the poorly performing staff member will carry out the plan to improve. It also starts to repair the damage that has likely accrued to the offending employee’s image and reputation within the company. And some employees may even be reflective enough to learn a valuable life lesion: adversity often brings opportunity for those wise enough to see it.

Should you find the staff member is reluctant to take this step to Go Fix It, it may indicate that the employee’s outward contrition is less than sincere, and that the agreed upon improvement is going to be short-lived.

Even great employees sometimes fall. What sets them apart is how gracefully they stand back up.