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The ‘Right’ Conversations on Employee Performance

17 February 2014 at 11:50 am
Staff Reporter
When a leader is having problems with an underperforming staff member it is often because the wrong types of conversations have been occurring, writes Ontological Practitioner and SouthCare Inc. Chief Executive Officer Dr Nicky Howe.

Staff Reporter | 17 February 2014 at 11:50 am


The ‘Right’ Conversations on Employee Performance
17 February 2014 at 11:50 am

When a leader is having problems with an underperforming staff member it is often because the wrong types of conversations have been occurring, writes Ontological Practitioner and SouthCare Inc. Chief Executive Officer Dr Nicky Howe.

As a leader we have to be able to define the distinctions between the various types of ‘talk’ or ‘conversations’ we have and the results these conversations can produce.

In this article I am going to explore what I think are the two key strategies in managing an underperforming staff member. The first is about you and your ‘Way of Being’ and the second is about the types of conversations you do or don’t not have.

I will use a common workplace performance management scenario to illustrate how you can resolve poor performance through implementing these two strategies.

In this scenario imagine you are the General Manager who has recently been appointed to the role. You have a line manager, David, who has been in the organisation for over 10 years, his role has gone from managing a small team to a much larger team. David was hired when the organisation was very small, with limited funds to afford qualified, experienced managers.

Insufficient time and resources have been provided for his leadership and management development. You assess his style as ‘command and control of people and information’. He prefers to make all the important decisions and to closely supervise and control his staff.

Strategy One: Managing Yourself

The first thing with an underperforming staff member is to focus on yourself. This approach is drawn from Ontology of the Human Observer. This branch of ontology centres on how we, as human beings, use our language (speaking and listening), our moods and emotions and our physiology (our body) to create our ‘Way of Being’. My Way of Being is based on these three domains, as is yours.

The following Way of Being model demonstrates this conceptually:

There is interplay between the three areas (language, moods and emotions and our physiology/body) and the world we each experience is shaped by our Way of Being.

How we each use our Way of Being and how we observe our Way of Being can open up possibilities for us or close down opportunities. When we have an underperforming staff member, they can be stuck in a Way of Being that is not helpful. Working with your own Way of Being enables you to understand how you and others function and how you can shift your Way of Being to improve your personal and professional life.

In returning to the poor performing staff member, observe these three elements of yourself. You may do this through some self-coaching, reflection or choose to work with an external/internal coach.

Through exploring and shifting how you are currently observing this situation you will be more resourceful in your approach.

Strategy Two: Conversational Intent

What I have noticed over my many years in management is that quite often many leaders and managers have lots of conversations, but their intent in not always clear.

This lack of clarity means they don’t produce results and that can mean ongoing problems, failures and breakdowns. We call this ‘conversational waste’ or ‘conversational viruses’.

To manage poor performance you have to take charge of the types of conversations that you use and start to notice and change unproductive conversations into productive conversations.

There are broadly three key intentions of conversations:

  • conversations for connection and intimacy (relationship with others);
  • conversations  for shared understanding (trying to be understood and understand in order to make plans);
  • conversations for coordinating action (getting things done through making agreements about who will do what by when).

However there are many conversations that emerge from these key intentions. The following (from Sieler) are some conversational practices for effective leaders:    

1.  Conversation for Stories and Assessments: To get things off our chest and to share our views. For example: “I went out to dinner the other day at Collette’s, gee the food was excellent”.

2. Conversation for Clarity: To ensure we have a mutual understanding of an issue, as the basis for moving forward together. For example: “So we are agreed, you will arrange a meeting with Jess and ask her do some audits on our personnel files?”.  

3. Conversation for Common Commitment: To ensure shared commitment to vision, future direction and goals. For example: “I am glad that we have agreed on our action plan and who is going to undertake what activities and by when”.

4. Conversation for Possibility (speculative conversation): To generate ideas and to explore different futures through what might be possible. For example: “Let us imagine it is one year later, what would we like to say we have achieved?”.

5. Conversation for Opportunity: To narrow down a wide range of possibilities to identify specific possibilities that are desirable. For example: “Now that we have 10 possible activities, which ones are emerging as the most appropriate?”.

6. Conversation for (Coordination of) Action: To get things done and bring about new realities. For example: “Ok, so in terms of agreements, Emily you are going to arrange for the staff to attend the meeting on Friday and I will present the information, using powerpoint and handouts that I will prepare. I understand I have one hour with the staff”.

7. Conversation for Progress: To pause and monitor progress towards meeting commitments and attaining goals. For example: “Let’s review how you are going against your HR Plan. How about we talk about each element and see how you are progressing?”

8. Conversation for Accomplishment: To acknowledge accomplishments, successes as a means of people recognising their own achievements and to provide a setting where their contributions are publicly valued by others. For example: “Thank you for coming to this morning tea, I would like to acknowledge all the work that Georgie has done in developing the quality framework and leading us through the process”.

9. Conversation for Appreciation: To publicly declare recognition, value, appreciation and  gratitude of others’ contributions. For example: “I want to thank you Paula for arranging the staff service awards event and acknowledge what a great job you have done Paula”.

10. Conversation for Accountability: To take effective action to deal with a broken promise/commitment. For example: “I have asked you to attend this meeting as I want to talk to you about a commitment that was made and to gain an understanding from you about what you agreed to. Did you agree to prepare the report by yesterday?”.

11. Conversation for Working Relationship:  To not avoid and to constructively confront a breakdown in the relationship. For example: “Can you let me know when you are free to go out for a coffee, I would like to talk about us and how we are working together”.

In summary when you have a staff member who is not performing consider these two key levers, managing yourself and your conversational intent.

About the Author: Dr Nicky Howe is a CEO, leadership and management coach and ontological practitioner, with over 25 years senior management experience working in government and Not for Profit sectors in the areas of employment, education, welfare, health, aged care and community services. She is the author of Building Better Relationships with those Your Lead, and a thesis titled Coaching – a vehicle for Managers’ learning and transfer of learning to the work environment.





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