Who manages poor performance – line managers or your organisation?

There’s a very interesting post from XpertHR today about the ability of managers in dealing with poor performance in their staff. Essentially a survey they carried out showed that employer’s doubt their line managers ability to do it.

I don’t find this finding surprising at all. The basic responsibility of any manager is to monitor performance of their team and ensure they are delivering work. Within that though, there’s a fair amount they have to deal with. If you think back to Situational Leadership, you have to identify the capability of your direct reports and respond to each one individually. If you think back to lean processes, you have to consider what processes and procedures you have in place and evaluate how effective they are. If you consider employee engagement, you have to consider how involved your team are on a variety of workplace initiatives. If you think about diversity, you have to be mindful of what practices you have in place and whether or not you are acting unfairly towards others.

And then you’re expected to give them feedback too? In another article pointed my way today, Peter Bregman, writing for HBR, talks about a situation where a CEO shys away from giving feedback because she is too ‘nice’. Feedback is difficult, especially if it’s dealing with performance management issues. I think, though, that the onus shouldn’t just be on the line manager.

Training is the first port of call to enable a line manager to do this well. And I’m pretty sure most companies will identify this is a basic piece of development any line manager should go through. And I’m pretty sure there’s various levels and complexities of what that development will look like > basics, middle manager, senior manager, coaching, executive coaching, yada yada. But, that’s only one piece of what needs to happen.

The organisation culture needs to be equally supportive of managing poor performance. And I don’t mean management needs to just support the training and development. Or the HR policy on performance management outlines how a disciplinary procedure needs to be started. Or you get put on an improvement plan of some sort. That’s all fine and dandy, but hardly supportive. More stick than carrot really.

The organisation culture needs to resemble something like the following. There needs to be some place (read someone) who you can talk to about poor performance in your team, and how you can address it. This isn’t restricted to HR or OD or L&D, but anyone in the organisation who has experience of and know how to deal with such issues. If you have an employee survey in some shape, or company temperature mechanism (huh?), this needs to be used actively. One of the best examples I saw of this was from Ford Motor Co. They would take their survey seriously and report back quarterly about what they were doing to respond to staff’s concerns. What this does is create a culture where you can say to your team “this isn’t good enough and it affects the business temperature in this way”. Your line managers need to have a forum where they can come together to discuss peer management issues. It should ideally be an Action Learning Set of some style. This helps focus line managers on actions and outcomes rather than bitching and whining.

There’s more that can be done, but I just wanted to highlight some thoughts around this topic from the organisation’s point of view.

Published by

Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

4 thoughts on “Who manages poor performance – line managers or your organisation?”

  1. Interesting post Sukh. I am increasingly of the opinion that being able to have the ‘difficult conversation’ is a potential organizational silver bullet and whilst HR/L&D etc should be a place to get advice, discuss and get support orgs need to hold managers accountable for the performance of their teams.

    Only this morning someone on FB also in HR commented that they were having an e-mail argument with a colleague who wanted HR on a difficult employee call. If I tell their response was to “man up” you can probably work out who it was!!!

    1. I too am of the opinion that orgs need to better equip the managers so that they can have these difficult conversations. Last week @FlipChartFT posted a great piece on the defence tactics of some managers and they are so recognisable. Unfortunately, I think also orgs are afraid to challenge their managers to do more because they don’t want to be seen to putting them under too much pressure. It’s at complete odds with the purpose of having a business in the first place.

      I won’t venture a guess on who this was!

  2. Totally agree that Line Mgrs need that Peer Discussion Forum to discuss Performance Mgt!

    In my last org we deployed “re-connect” sessions (similar to action learning) for line managers following their “supervisor essentials” workshop for this reason – to start building a peer network where they could discuss performance mgt with other peers. The first session or two were facilitated by L&D and the remainder by the group itself – one a month. The purpose was to focus on what they had done, what had worked, not worked and what could be done better moving forward.
    Performance Mgt & Feedback were a hot topic as ever!
    As a result I noticed less line managers coming to me with the usual: “What do I do with this person in my team??!!.” and saying: “I’ve had a chat with peer X in the last re-coonect session, we discussed a few ideas and now I have a clear action plan. I just need some coaching on how to do this/that more effectively ”
    L&D/OD/HR weren’t doing it for them, we were enabling them to do it themselves.

    1. I like the idea of a ‘re-connect’ session. We had them at my first workplace, and have re-ignited them here. There is so much value and richness of conversation that comes out from them, that I couldn’t hope to impart that learning myself. Well I could, but it’s better coming from the delegates!

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