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Performance improvement, in a nutshell

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in Leaders & Managers,Performance Reviews

Do you have an employee who is not working up to standard? Or one with poor work habits? Or one who hasn't shown real improvement for some time? While the causes of impaired performance are varied, there's a time-tested strategy for securing an ongoing commitment from employees to put in the effort to improve results.

Following these six steps will help you implement this strategy in almost every sit­uation. They can make a significant differ­ence in the way your people do their jobs.

1. Know exactly what you want. "Doing a better job" and "working harder" and "getting along better" are too general. You need to be able to specify what you want someone to do differently. Until you can do that, you aren't ready to discuss performance.

2. Think in terms of action, not atti­tude. Yes, attitude is important—no question about it. But attitude is men­tal, a part of every employee's mind-set (whether good or bad), and that's outside your area of responsibility. You are not responsible for what your people think or feel. You are responsible for what they do. Concentrate on that. 

3. Communicate your expectations. This does not mean "tell them what to do." It means explain the results you need, and why. Then get the employee's agreement to produce those results within an appropriate period of time. It's essential to continue this discussion until the employee says, "Yes, I will [make the change you need] by [whatever date you settle on]."

4. Inspect what you expect. Give the employee a chance to perform, and monitor the results. If it's clear that you have to provide assistance—more training, more resources, more staff support—to get the results you need, make sure those elements are in place. Pay particular attention to the areas in which you are expecting improve­ment, but don't ignore other aspects of the employee's work. You don't want improvement in one area to be made at the expense of poor performance elsewhere.

5. Praise every improvement. What may seem to you to be a very small improvement may, in fact, cost the employee a great deal of effort in terms of changing old habits, learn­ing a new way of doing things or accepting someone else's ideas about the job. Compliment the employee on every change for the better that you notice, no matter how slight. Positive reinforcement works.

6. Refuse to accept poor perfor­mance. If you look for improvement and honestly can't find it, let the employee know. Express your disap­pointment and ask why nothing has changed. Discuss, to the point of agreement, how the employee will get back on track. Then repeat the previous two steps. Eighty percent of the time, you won't have to come back to this last step.

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