Enabling employees to perform

Management is not just about strategy and systems. It is all about doing & managing people as well.  Managers make grand plans, but fail to get teams to work effectively to produce greater output. Often, there is a tendency to do everything themselves – individually. This is understandable, given today’s situation – resources lack competency, freshers have no clue what they are supposed to do, high churn among trained resources, etc. But despite this, if work is largely individual and team based, it means employees are technicians, not managers. The output will never be greater than the sum of the parts i.e. no scalability. When managers and leaders hire people, they expect them to perform. When the employee does not perform, rarely are the causes examined. A rather quick conclusion is made that the employee should be replaced. But good management is all about managing people, and here are some pointers on what could be done to improve performance of subordinates.

When managers buy a machine which does not meet expectation, they realize a mistake has been made, and all tricks in the book are tried to salvage the machine.  They call support teams from various sources, try retrofitting, buy extra accessories etc. But in case of a human resource, the moment the person does not live up to expectation, the first thought is to replace the person. Just as all kinds of fixes are tried to get the machine up and running, there is a need to examine the causes of failure and figure out how to better enable employees to succeed before replacing them.  Most leaders use a few best practices and levers that could be put to good use.  The result that an employee produces depends on various factors like capability, training, motivation, environmental factors and finally performance.

Capability

Hiring decisions are based on evaluation of capability. If mistakes are made here, then there is a serious problem down the line in managers not being clear on the capabilities required for the job. This needs to be fixed at the outset, by clarifying the job description, the success profile, skill sets required, type of person required etc. With clarity and training, managers can reorient their interviews to reduce chances of error.

Training

When employees are trained, the training provided has to be relevant to the job, and it should enable the employee to perform the job independently. It has to teach them how to do the job. But rarely is a check done. This can be evaluated by having review sessions to determine how well the employee has learnt the job. It also provides an opportunity to fine tune the training program.

Motivation 

For most employees, work conditions, pay, etc seem like motivators, but over time they become merely hygiene factors. They do need to be taken care of. But even when done, it doesn’t mean employees will be satisfied. Achievement, recognition, work content and responsibility are factors that will lead to higher satisfaction and drive employees to perform better and become self driven. Hence apart from monetary rewards and recognition, praising positive behaviour and criticising negative behaviour is important, and an often neglected tool.

The big mistake most managers make is that they sideline or neglect good behaviour and reinforce negative behaviour. Managers may unknowingly send subordinates many unwanted signals. What the boss says for 2 minutes, the subordinate thinks the whole day. The subordinate may think that he has been innovative and creative and could have spent the entire day working on an idea he thought his boss would appreciate. But when he brings it to the boss at the end of the day, and the work is brushed aside, he may feel de-motivated. If he has not understood the requirement, it is not his problem, but rather a problem with the manager in not having made this clear. In the event that he did a decent job, it becomes obvious that positive behaviour is not being recognized and reinforced. Organizations rent behaviour of employees, not their bodies or minds. Only when employees behave in a desired manner, will useful output be produced. Hence, bosses and managers need to be careful. But for a boss, it is not easy. At the end of a tired day, even after repeating the same stuff to umpteen employees and customers, he still has to do it again, and let the subordinate know that he is doing something important. Correct behaviour has to be consciously reinforced and negative behaviour punished. It is just like a sales man meeting his last customer at the end of the day – he cannot tell the customer he is tired since he has said the same thing to others the whole day. He has to treat this customer as though he is the most important person he is meeting today.

We find great examples of reinforcing negative behaviour played out in families between parents and children too. When a parent shouts to try and correct wrong behaviour, many kids start to cry, the parent then feels sorry for them and say “its okay”. It means reinforcing the wrong behaviour. It becomes a habit that gets internalized, and later the steps get skipped, and wrong behaviour becomes the norm. The same situation gets played out in the corporate environment. Negative behaviour is not punished because everyone prefers to avoid an uncomfortable atmosphere at the workplace. But somewhere in this drama, managers are shirking from responsibility, and encouraging subordinates to continue with wrong behaviour. As managers and leaders, it is our responsibility to correct them. Hence punishing wrong behaviour is as important as recognizing correct behaviour.

Environmental Factors

There could be a number of factors that prevent employees from doing their job. Identifying these factors requires careful analysis and discussion with the employee. It could be lack of processes, insufficient tools to empower the employee, complex people politics etc. Whatever the reasons, with analysis, it is not too difficult to get to the bottom of the cause.

Review & communicate

Then there is the issue of performance of the employee. Check for capability – does the employee know clearly what to do? Are there factors or difficulties that prevent them from doing their job? How can we remove those factors? Are there rewards for non performance, are there punishments for performing?

Do subordinates know what is supposed to be done? If they do not know what their managers want, they cannot give it. Do they know that their performance is not meeting the standard? Do they have immediate feedback about this? If these communication loops are not closed, there is no way things will work out. When we communicate to others, how do we know the other has understood it? Most leaders use a great technique. They just rephrase at the end to clarify. To make sure the instructions are communicated, it is good to get the employee to repeat what we want them to say and make sure the gap does not exist. Apart from them knowing what is supposed to be done, they also need to know how to do it. Close this gap as well. Performance management is not an event. It is a continuous process.

Paying attention to these factors, and consciously practicing them in the course of managing employees  helps to deliver better performance.