Part of owning a business or managing one is dealing with the performance management of the team. The number of performance problems that arise in discussions with small business owners never surprises me. The statistic that amazes me is the minuscule percent of the issues that have been communicated to the employee.
By the owners own admission, they are to the point of frustration with an employee that they are ready to give up, yet they have never directly communicated to the employee the issue at hand. Whether it is the owner directly or one of the owner’s managers, there is a high rate of performance problems occurring that continues until the manager is fed up and has given up.
Why has the employee not been communicated to along the way? How can the employee improve if they don’t know that they have not performed to the manager’s expectations? And now that the manager has mentally written them off, how can they possibly dig out of this hole?
Let’s dive into these questions and see if a better understanding can help us all move toward strong performance management with our team.
Why Managers Avoid Addressing Performance Issues
Why has the employee not been communicated along the way?
This usually falls into one of four categories:
- The owner or manager has never been trained in performance management. In a small business, there is usually not a formal Human Resources department to provide guidance and direction here. If I don’t know exactly the right way to discuss performance, I sometimes procrastinate this process, until it is too late.
- The owner or manager avoids conflict in general, and if it is regarding a person’s performance, this is highly uncomfortable. They purposely avoid discussing issues with employees and hope that the issue just resolves itself.
- Some managers/owners feel like they have normal expectations and feel as if the employee should automatically know they are not meeting them. They feel it is common sense and that the employee just doesn’t care.
- Many times the owner feels inadequate in the person’s area of expertise and if they bring up a problem, their own lack of knowledge will surface when the employee asks questions or becomes defensive.
How Can Business Owners and Managers Improve Their Communication?
These all occur regularly in my experience working with small business owners year after year. Obviously, there is much that can be written on each of these, however, for the purposes of this post, I will suggest a couple of things:
- Commit to training or coaching in the area of leadership and performance management. Almost every business has employees or vendors to manage. As the owner of a company, by default, you are now responsible for the performance of others. This is the best training investment you can make, as being a good performance manager will help all employees meet their performance potential, reduce turnover, and avoid an even bigger problem by letting the performance issue go on too long.
- Find subject matter advisors. Each of us has areas in our business that we are the strongest. Few of us are exceptional in every area of the business. In the area you are weak, you should find advisors or resources to support you in those areas. As an owner, it isn’t okay to just be ignorant of some facet of your business. If you are weak at accounting and analysis, consider having your books audited regularly by an outside accounting firm. If you are not strong on the sales front, consider a sales coach. If you are not strong in HR, maybe seek a board member who comes from that arena.
- Develop structure for performance management. It is much easier, less confrontational, and less personal if there is an established process for performance management. This includes job descriptions for each position, regular performance reviews that are scheduled, and a culture of open communication on an everyday basis. Having this structure gives confidence to the manager to communicate effectively and relevantly, and to the employee that there is a fair system in place and that they will be communicated with in a timely manner.
I know many jobs in small businesses feel like they are routine and do not require high-level technical candidates. This may be true, but everyone, regardless of their position, needs to fully know and understand their job responsibilities, have some training as to how it should be done at your company, and be communicated with regularly whether or not they are meeting your expectations. This is the fair thing to do, but more importantly, it is the more effective way to manage your team.
In the end, as a small business owner, we all want to have strong performers and a cohesive team. This may not be 100% up to us, but these are a few things that can give us a head start. Plus, they give the employee a better chance of doing their part to meet your expectations and keep up their performance.