By: Dona Dezube
Yelling, chronic tardiness, poor customer service — any of these employee performance issues can disrupt the workplace. That’s particularly true in a small business environment, where close quarters can amplify problem behavior.
How can you improve employee performance? The key to practicing good management skills is to provide employees with constructive feedback that corrects the problem without creating more workplace drama.
Management Skills: Keep it Positive
Good management skills begin with what not to do — and a basic understanding of psychology 101.
A negative approach can easily crush an employee’s ego, says Gary Namie, Ph.D., director of the Workplace Bullying Institute, Bellingham, Wash., and author of The Bully-Free Workplace: Stop Jerks, Weasels, and Snakes From Killing Your Organization.
Consider the ramifications: In a good job market an employee with a crushed ego will leave. In a tough job market, the employee just might stay and simmer with secret resentment, resulting in behavior that challenges your management skills.
Don’t yell and don’t berate your employee, says Jon Gordon, consultant and author of The No Complaining Rule: Positive Ways to Deal with Negativity at Work. “The research and data are clear that when you beat employees with a stick — including yelling at them — it’s humiliating for them, decreases their self-esteem, and puts them in a state of fear and anger.” And being the “bad boss” does nothing to inspire lasting change. In fact, when you stop yelling, the problem often comes right back.
Don’t expect other employees to tattle to you about problem behaviors, especially if the issue involves a superior. Watch for clues, like lost employee productivity or poor morale and ask open-ended questions to find out what’s going on: “Is there anything at work I can help you with?
Enable Problem Employees to Change
Rather than adopting a management style that incites problem behavior, tackle it directly:
Step in right away. Don’t ignore problem behavior if you have performance management anxiety. “If the behavior is toxic, delay worsens the situation for everyone,” Namie says.
Be clear about your expectations. Focus on the behavior you want, not the behavior you don’t want, says Paul Marciano, president of Whiteboard, LLC, Flemington, N.J., and author of Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work: Build a Culture of Employee Engagement with the Principles of RESPECT.
Approach the problem in a collaborative way to cultivate employee engagement, Marciano says. Try telling the employee: “I’m confused and concerned. I’m confused because I thought I was clear about what I was asking. I’m concerned because my expectation doesn’t seem to have gotten met. Can you help me understand that?”
It’s about the Relationship
Conversations about problem behaviors have the best chance of succeeding when you already have a caring relationship with the employee, Gordon says.
Before you bring up the problem behavior, talk about how much you value the relationship and the employee. For example, if an employee is a loud talker, you might say: “I care about you. I want to help you grow here, so I want you to know that when you talk loud on the phone it distracts others.”
Calling out Bullying Behavior
When bad behavior crosses the line into workplace bullying, shift your strategy toward an emphasis on the rules, Namie says.
“You’re not going to change the person [who bullies others],” he says. “The most you can accomplish is constraint. Box them in with clear boundaries.”
Don’t attack the person and don’t ask why they engage in the problem behavior — those tactics lead to defensiveness. If you’re challenged with managing an overqualified employee who yells and puts co-workers down, for example, you might be tempted to say, “You’ve got to stop being an SOB, why are you driving everyone crazy?”
Instead, acknowledge their value and then impose the rules. “You’re technically skilled, but when I ask you to share your skills with other people and you make them feel small — that’s unacceptable. I can’t have four people leave to make you feel valuable.”
Talking to employees about problem behaviors is never easy. We’d much rather tell someone they’re doing a great job than discuss problems. Combing a cooperative approach with employee performance issues with a rule-based strategy with office bullies will make it easier for you to frame the discussion. It will also make it more likely that you’ll get the improved behavior you want in your workplace.