Front Office by Mary Collins

Improve Performance With Communication

A failure to communicate can be at the root of an employee’s or a company’s poor performance. “Communicating performance expectations directly with any employee is the best way to turn things around,” says HR coach Barbara Kurka. She offers five suggestions to help you handle situations where you need to communicate expectations and motivate employees more effectively.
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“What we['ve] got here is [a] failure to communicate.” How many times have you heard that line quoted? I thought about it again while working on this column because it’s a famous movie quote and we are in that time of year when there seems to be an awards ceremony every weekend. I’ll have to admit that I needed to do some research to find the original source. It’s from 1967’s Cool Hand Luke. The speaker is a prison guard who just hit a prisoner, played by Paul Newman. He follows it by explaining to the other prisoners, “Some men you just can’t reach.”

Fortunately workplaces have changed a lot since the 1940s prison chain gang depicted in the film. What’s not changed is that a failure to communicate can be at the root of an employee’s or a company’s poor performance.

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“Communicating performance expectations directly with any employee is the best way to turn things around,” says Barbara Kurka, an HR coach and HR business partner for media companies and other businesses. Kurka, who wrote an article entitled “From Dimly Lit to All Fired Up” that appears in the current issue of MFM’s The Financial Manager magazine, gives this advice to managers who come to her with the challenge of a promising new hire that is still showing more promise than performance after three-to-six months on the job.

So, what is the best way to handle those situations where you need to communicate expectations and motivate employees more effectively? Kurka offers the following tips:

Define your expectationsStart by evaluating how well you identified the standards that you are using to measure performance. That process beings with taking a look at the job description and confirming that it addresses the behaviors that the employee is expected to exhibit. It should clearly identify the competencies and skills that must be demonstrated and the results the company expects, such as increased sales, new business and getting along with fellow employees.

“If these expectations aren’t already reflected in the job description, or if there is no descrip­tion, put one in writing so you have a basis for your performance evaluation,” recommends Kurka. “If you’re unable to be clear about what good performance looks like, how can you expect the employee to know?”

Before moving forward, you also need to determine what the company is willing to invest in the employee’s success. Closing the gap between expectations and performance could require giving more of your time and guidance and/or a willingness to invest in training, coaching or mentoring. The flip side, of course, is starting over which also means significant cost and time lost.

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Prepare for the discussionKurka points out, This may seem obvious, but all too many managers go into a performance conversation winging it. They figure they know the problems, so what else is needed? But without adequate preparation, the conversation is usually unproductive or counterproductive.” As a result, “The employee gets defensive, and the manager may say things not directly related to performance,” Kurka warns.

It’s important to outline the results you want and build your points based upon those results. Go so far as practicing the conversation; this helps no matter how many times you’ve had similar conversations.

Commitment to the process means allowing both quality time and privacy for the meeting. Close the door, silence computer “pings,” forward or turn off phones.

Kurka also recommends letting the employee know in ad­vance of the meeting what the topic will be. “Let him know this will be a dialogue, not a monologue.”  A good way to demonstrate this is beginning the conversation by asking the staffer what her or she thinks about his or her performance to date.

Listen —Pay careful attention to what’s being said,” Kurka stresses. This will allow you to determine such things as whether or not the employee understands what the job requires, whether or not he (or she) knows he’s not performing it well and if she/he is frustrated about it. Note also whether you’re hearing lots of excuses with no acceptance of responsibility or if the employee feels additional resources would help to improve his or her performance.

Kurka points out that letting the employee begin the conversation has a number of advantages. Most importantly, the employee feels he’s being heard, making him less defensive and more willing to work on improvement. This approach also makes it easier for you to evaluate if the employee ‘gets the pic­ture.’”  This also “gives you time to check your own assumptions about why he’s not performing. He may understand clearly what’s wrong and not know how to fix it. You can and should also ask questions to clarify your understand­ing of his self-evaluation.”

Advocate your position — Start by recapping of the employee’s point of view. Follow this by explaining where you see the gaps between what’s expected and what’s being delivered. This is where the employee needs to improve. Kurka recommends that you “Be clear about what he needs to do to succeed. Don’t make it personal; it’s about behaviors, not traits.”

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Ratings

Overnights, adults 18-49 for September 25, 2016
  • 1.
    5.5/18
  • 2.
    2.6/8
  • 3.
    1.2/4
  • 4.
    0.9/3
  • 5.
    0.5/2
  • 6.
    0.2/1
Source: Nielsen

Reviews

  • Rob Owen

    Easily fall’s best broadcast network comedy pilot, NBC’s The Good Place offers a clever high-concept premise that’s complemented with intelligent, sometimes absurdist humor. Created by Michael Schur, co-creator of NBC’s Parks and Recreation, The Good Place is a highly serialized series that’s essentially set in heaven and stars Kristen Bell and Ted Danson. NBC made five episodes of The Good Place available for review, and the show not only holds up, but also it improves, deepening characters that initially feel one-note and frequently leaving viewers guessing with cliffhanger endings to many of the episodes. The combination of snappy dialogue and winning but flawed characters makes The Good Place a great bet for fans of smart TV comedy.

  • Maureen Ryan

    Pitch has swagger, for good reason. It gets the big things right; the Fox drama about the first female baseball player in the Major Leagues is one of the year’s most assured and exciting debuts. But part of what impresses about the pilot is also the way it confidently strings together so many small but telling details. Ginny (Kylie Bunbury) is the first woman to be called up from the minors to the big leagues, and no show since Friday Night Lights has done a better job of portraying the internal and external pressures that weigh heavily on young athletes asked to do much more than merely succeed on the field. Pitch will likely do a good job of getting viewers to root for it. The hope is that the show won’t be an impressive, short-lived curiosity, but rather a long-term phenomenon.

  • Kevin Fallon

    In a fall TV season that’s already making a splash for championing diverse, distinctive voices in an array of projects that they created, wrote, and starred in, Better Things on FX stands out. The show is created by, written by, and starsPamela Adlon. She plays Sam Fox, the single mother of three daughters modeled after her own reality-show-ready experience raising three girls in Los Angeles following a divorce. Sam is also, like Adlon, a working actress — on shows both raunchy, a la Californication, and animated for children, like her role on Recess. It’s a refreshingly blunt take on single motherhood without sacrificing the warmth of parental love, portraying the dance between selfishness and selflessness that’s at the heart of being a parent — especially one weathering the hormonal fireworks of a household of four women at different ages.

  • David Wiegand

    The fall TV season doesn’t count as much as it used to — we already know that. But no matter how many retreads the broadcast networks throw at viewers in the next few months, this fall will be memorable because of the premiere of Atlanta on Tuesday, Sept. 6, on FX. The half-hour comedy created by and starring Donald Glover (Community), simply and brilliantly recalibrates our expectations of what a TV comedy is and how black lives are portrayed on the medium.

  • Louisa Ada Seltzer

    The second reboot of the 1980s John Candy movie Uncle Buck, bumped by ABC from midseason, has the same tired jokes you'll find on any second-rate sitcom. Too bad, because Mike Epps is appealing and ABC would be wise to keep him around for future shows, but there’s just not enough to this show to suggest it will last past summer. It also airs against NBC’s America’s Got Talent, summer’s No. 1 program on broadcast, which may make it even harder to find an audience.

  • Neil Genzlinger

    Bryan Cranston brings his Tony Award-winning interpretation of President Lyndon B. Johnson to television in an adaptation of the Robert Schenkkan play All the Way, and it’s still quite a sight to behold, just as it was on Broadway in 2014. Nothing beats witnessing this kind of larger-than-life portrayal onstage, of course. But the television version, presented by HBO, offers plenty of rewards, allowing Cranston to work the close-ups and liberating him from the confines of a theater set. Cranston’s performance is a gem — in his hands, this accidental president comes across as an amazing bundle of contradictions, someone who seems at once too vulgar for the job and just right for it.

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