Read an Excerpt
Perfect Phrases for Documenting Employee Performance Problems
By Anne Bruce
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2005 The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Indispensable Communications Tools
Beware of the Trauma You May Cause When Documenting Performance Problems
In the Introduction to this book, I discussed how and why organizations came to document performance issues in the first place—their initial good intentions and their eventual malfunction. The following story brings a real-world face to this critical issue and the importance of finding perfect phrases to document performance problems.
When a Single Word Without Explanation Won't Cut It
John, a supervisor at a well-known pharmaceutical firm, shared the following confidential story during an interview for this book:
I remember when I was coming up through the ranks in this organization. I was eager, hardworking, and enthusiastic about the future until my manager documented my performance in a standard 90-day performance review.
I distinctly recall that he wrote down in my file that my overall performance was "satisfactory." This one word leveled me. In my head, I was working so much harder and better than just satisfactory. What did he mean? Why wasn't the documentation more specific? Why didn't he write, "John's performance was satisfactory based on his level of current experience"? That, I could have handled. Instead, I was simply labeled "satisfactory"—translation: lower than highly satisfactory, below good, and far below excellent or a job well done!
You may be thinking, why was this so traumatic? After all, my manager didn't write something terrible about me. But, you see, it was terrible. My enthusiasm was squelched and so was my confidence. The documentation without better understanding of what exactly "satisfactory" meant was insufficient feedback that took the air right out of my sails and slowed down my go-get-'em stride and positive attitude. That documentation haunted me for years, and I eventually left the department because of it.
John's point is well taken. As a manager, always be fully aware of the influence you may have over someone the moment you write down and document a performance issue. You don't have to write something derogatory to traumatize someone—one word can do it. Lack of specificity and ignoring a specific recommendation, or a way to help people improve their status, is enough to set them back and squash their self-confidence. So remember, it's not just what you say in your documentation that matters, it's also how you say it.
As you use these lists of perfect phrases for documenting performance problems, keep in mind that it will be up to you to provide a thorough explanation of the phrase suggested. A phrase alone is not enough when it comes to really wanting to help someone get better and reach his or her greater potential.
Let Performance Problems Be Your Organization's Strength Finders
Documenting an employee's performance problems is a delicate matter. When a leader takes the time to carefully craft what he is going to say about someone, that person helps to set the tone for future dialogue and ongoing improvement and personal growth.
Right now in some organization, somewhere, a manager or supervisor is meeting with an employee to discuss his or her performance problems. Some people would rather have a root canal! But they feel that way because managers and supervisors often focus on the problem and not on the strength that can come from addressing that problem head on. Leaders also fail to back it up by providing a method to somehow create strength in an otherwise weak performance. (See Appendix A, Sample Performance Builder.) We've learned from experience that the traditional performance appraisal, on its own, simply doesn't cut it.
So then how does one improve performance by focusing on strengths? It is done by developing better and stronger communications skills as a leader. When you document an employee's performance problems, you hold in your hand the power to affect that individual's long-term success and desire to change and evolve for the better. Documenting an employee's performance problems gives you, the leader, an opportunity to emphasize the vital qualities that that person possesses. You can also further elaborate on how that employee can transform those weaknesses one step at a time into something of greater value and meaning.
It is your communications skills—or the ability to phrase problems clearly, correctly, and effectively—that can remove the barriers to your employees' performance and productivity. When a leader does this well, she lets the employee know exactly where he stands and how far he needs to go to get to his best performance. That's the mission—continuous learning and growth, not criticism and ridicule.
Get to the Problem Sooner, Not Later
The key to communicating effectively and enabling continuous learning to occur is to identify possible problems before they happen, or as soon as they happen, not later, when irreversible damage may already have been created.
The Process Begins
Documenting performance problems is an ongoing challenge when you want to bring an employee's performance up to an optimum level.
Doing so requires a process that should accomplish the following objectives:
1. Quickly identify and uncover obstacles to an employee's performance and success. Do this sooner, rather than later, whenever possible.
2. Help provide the person, as quickly as possible, with what she needs to eliminate those obstacles that stand in the way of improved performance and ongoing success.
3. Be honest and straightforward in your documentation. When you set clear expectations, you are preparing the employee—actually setting her up—for success rather than failure.
How you go about fostering the communication between you and your employees is up to you, but here are a few guidelines:
* Practice management by walking around (MBWA) and observing what is going on. Observation is the most underrated of all measurement tools. Plus, it's easy to do and cheap.
* Ask employees for ongoing status reports on projects. Don't wait six months to find out what is happening.
* Hold weekly meetings with employees to evaluate overall direction and review what has been accomplished to date.
* Provide lots of helpful and corrective feedback.
* Use one-on-one communication when a performance problem arises. Never ridicule anyone or point out someone's problems in front of others.
Review these communications processes with your team or workers. Then ask employees to share their specific techniques for doing a great job. It's also a good time to ask others to brainstorm their individual solutions to various performance issues. Oftentimes, other workers' tips, tools, and shortcuts can serve as valuable feedback for all concerned.
A key point is that basically there are two kinds of managers. One manager is dead set on making others feel small or lesser, so that he or she can feel bigger and more important. The other manager is committed to people first. That type of leader takes time to learn to communicate clearly and explain her or his actions so that others can learn and develop from that important and vital feedback. What kind of manager or leader are you?
Performance Problems: Strength Finders or Weapons of Human Destruction
Did you know that when you uncover performance problems in others and document them appropriately you also can use those problems as learning tools rather than weapons of human destruction? When we use performance problems as strength finders, we become capable of building a higher-performing workplace, a workplace filled with healthy morale, a strong work ethic, genuine effort, and a system that supports those efforts.
Perfect Phrases in Performance Areas Where Problems Are Most Common
A book like this could include literally hundreds of lists encompassing a wide range of performance areas. The lists in this section have been fine-tuned, however, to include the performance areas on the job where the problems and challenges employees regularly face most commonly occur. In other words, these are the areas you can be sure you will be dealing with most often and referring to most frequently.
How to Use These Lists
Remember, nothing is really perfect—even a so-called perfect phrase. The term itself, perfect phrases, is used to help you to document specific performance problems quickly, but they become even more effective when adapted and honed to fit your specific industry or management needs. Documenting anyone's performance problems isn't easy. It takes time and effort by both the manager and employee involved.
That documentation process is made a little easier by the lists provided throughout this book. You can quickly scan each list and then pluck out the parts that pertain to the specific situation at hand. By scrolling down each list under each category, you will no doubt be reminded of the problem areas you wish to face head on with that employee. I suggest using color markers to place checkmarks alongside a phrase in which you are particularly interested. Some managers and supervisors use red markers to check off entries or indicate a serious situation; others use blue or yellow, orange or green, to indicate increasing or decreasing levels of concern. Obviously, you are the best judge for indicating which phrases will best pertain to an employee's performance needs.
Above all, some of the things on these lists may actually help to stimulate employee/employer discussion and thinking. You'll want to use this book before you actually sit down with the person to discuss a performance problem. It's not something you pull out of your desk in front of the employee and reference with a highlighter!
Like it says in the Nordstrom employee handbook: Rule number one is to use your good judgment and common sense at all times. Rule number two is that there will be no other rules! We can all take a lesson from this kind of management wisdom. It is your good judgment and common sense used in tandem with the resources in this book that make these perfect phrases for documenting performance problems more than just words on paper. Rather, they will become vital tools for managing better.
Keep in mind that when documenting a person's performance problems, always be ready, when asked, to back up your documentation with specific examples. This preparation is critical. Next, have a plan of action to help that person learn from his or her mistakes and get on with a program for continuous learning and growth opportunities. Additional tools at the back of this book can help you.
If You Can't Back It Up, Don't Say It
The perfect phrases will allow you, the manager, the perfect opportunity to specify what you are referring to with action steps; you can then provide your own examples pertaining to that individual's performance challenges. Even a perfect phrase can't stand alone without the meaningful purpose and actions to back it up. That's your job. If you can't back it up, then don't bother saying it. And never overwhelm a person with the items on these lists. Select a handful of perfect phrases with which to start. The objective is to help employees to correct and learn from their mistakes, not to bury them in lists of weaknesses and performance failures.
In this next section, you will find perfect phrases for 30 of the following performance problem areas:
Empowerment and Delegation
Technical Skill Development
People Skills and Relationship-Building
Handling Personal Problems
Creativity and Innovation
Self-Esteem and Confidence
Efficient Use of Time
Problem Solving and Conflict Resolution
Resistance to Change
Motivation and Morale Building
Common Sense and Good Judgment
Personal Growth and Development
Professional Growth and Intentional Learning
* Needs to become an engaged listener, make eye contact, lean in, ask pertinent questions, and so on.
* Should be asking lots of questions to show interest and attention.
* Has limited attention span for people, needs to be expanded.
* Needs work in verbal skills.
* Has poor grammar.
* Needs to improve phone skills.
* Writes poorly.
* Spells poorly; too many errors.
* Needs to be articulate and compelling.
* Is too technical when explaining things to laypeople.
* Is weak when it comes to speaking persuasively and convincingly.
* Needs PowerPoint class.
* Could benefit from public speaking class, or Toastmasters.
* Has voice that is too monotonous.
* Uses body language that is not engaging or open to communication.
* Fumbles for answers; needs to think through responses.
* Comes across as defensive or threatened.
* Does not attempt to build rapport.
* Does not gain audience participation or involvement in presentations.
* Misunderstands others frequently.
* Would benefit from computer class for more effective and entertaining presentations.
* Expresses self well verbally but not on paper.
* Confuses people with both verbal and written communications.
* Uses e-mails inappropriately or writes poor e-mail messages.
* Rambles; memos need to be more concise and to the point.
* Needs to address business etiquette.
* Takes too long to make a point.
* Fails to take thorough notes for future preparation.
* Confuses others easily with convoluted terminology.
* Is sometimes difficult to understand because of heavy accent or language barriers.
* Has difficulty understanding others with accents but won't politely ask for clarification.
* Fails to have someone repeat the point being made to establish clearer understanding for both parties.
* Needs to summarize what has been said by others to be sure there is mutual understanding.
* Will not take time to spell check or grammar check proposals or other critical documents that represent the company.
* Is too casual in communicating with new clients.
* Needs to show more respect for older clients and senior leaders.
* Is consistently late.
* Shows up late for work at least once a week.
* Has used all sick days.
* Has used more than allotted sick days.
* Consistently calls in sick on Mondays and Fridays.
* Misses work and does not call in.
* Has a poor attendance record.
* Takes long breaks.
* Uses bad weather as an excuse not to show up for work.
* Very rarely comes back from lunch on time.
* Arrives late for meetings by at least 10 minutes every time.
* Clocks in late frequently.
* Does not recognize the inconsideration to others that poor punctuality brings with it.
* Does not understand it is rude to always be late or to not show up when others are expecting you and counting on you.
* Does not see the impact of tardiness on fellow workers.
* Is arrogant when asked about being late.
* Makes inappropriate jokes about not being on time.
* Needs to notify supervisor or manager of emergency absences as soon as possible.
* Should begin working within 10 minutes of arriving at work.
* Should start notifying someone if he or she is going to be late for work or a meeting.
* Needs to attend substance abuse meetings regularly, as agreed upon.
* Occasionally arrives at work under the influence.
* Needs to start recognizing and correcting poor work habits.
* Frequently makes poor decisions.
* Is afraid of risk required to make hard decisions.
* Plays both sides of the fence when making decisions.
* Makes decisions too quickly, thereby regretting decisions made.
* Makes appropriate decisions less often than inappropriate decisions [state approximate percentage of times].
* Makes poor decisions, wasting significant time on the job.
* Needs to weigh options carefully before making decisions.
* Has to take more time in making critical and costly decisions.
* Avoids decision-making opportunities, showing lack of leadership.
* Always requires leadership to back up the decision made.
* Fails to take into account the impact on fellow workers or stakeholders involved.
* Is too analytical; needs to loosen up and go with the gut, at the appropriate time.
* Lacks self-confidence to make tough choices.
* Needs to practice making tougher choices, not just easy-to-please choices.
* Must get more experience in order to use sound judgment in the decision-making process.
* Needs to be exposed to more key decision makers in the organization who can set examples.
* Is too sensitive about hard-core choices that involve large responsibilities.
* Only makes decisions by consensus, even when it is not necessary.
* Should take a decision-making seminar to develop skills.
* Is too comfortable with the status quo, needs to shake things up.
* Cannot commit to a decisive course of action; is too vague.
* Makes too many decisions based on personal feelings, not employee performance.
Excerpted from Perfect Phrases for Documenting Employee Performance Problems by Anne Bruce. Copyright © 2005 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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