Has this ever happened to you as a manager? One of your direct reports doesn’t do what their job (function) requires them to do. Perhaps they didn’t get a report in on time or they showed up late for work because they slept in or they left out a crucial step in a project which caused a delay in production.
Each of these behaviors is “non-performance”. In other words, the person who reports to you hasn’t “performed” what’s required of them in their function. And, as a manager, you’re expected to deal with it.
Yet, many managers let it slide, with cascading consequences down the line where the “little” problem has now become a much bigger one with a more serious negative impact on the people or the organization. Why does this happen and what can you do about it?
Many of our client managers tell us that they really dislike dealing with non-performance and that they feel vulnerable when they do.
Here’s the cause of these feelings. Most people (not just managers) are uncomfortable with conflict mainly because they interpret disagreement as conflict. Here’s how this works. When a manager has to deal with someone’s non-performance, it means they have to “disagree” with how that person is currently behaving. And, because they interpret this “disagreement” as conflict, they become uncomfortable and, as a result of their discomfort, they give themselves permission not to deal with the non-performance. This happens mostly unconsciously.
What the manager doesn’t realize is that when they do “nothing”, they have actually done “something” – specifically, they have acknowledged that the non-performance is OK, because if it wasn’t OK they would have dealt with it.
When this unconscious “discomfort” response isn’t monitored, it means that they are actually letting their personal discomfort get in the way of effectively dealing with the non-performance issue, which has the potential to create cascading negative consequences.
Although we have dealt with “5 Ways to Deal with Identified Non-Performance” in another blog , our experience has shown that the topic is so critical to successful business that we are expanding it here.
As a manager, there are 3 ways you can help neutralize your discomfort and deal more effectively with non-performance.
1. Remember that you are never representing yourself personally in the work arena.
You are only ever representing your job (function) and your function demands that you immediately deal with non-performance when you witness it. It’s part of your job description. This essentially means that your personal emotional responses (including discomfort with disagreement/conflict) need to be held separatelyfrom the job you are representing if you want to be able to do the job appropriately on an ongoing basis.
This is a HUGE point, often forgotten and overlooked in many companies and by most people in those companies. This also applies to the person responsible for the non-performance. They are never representing themselves personally. They are only ever representing their function. This means that the discussion between the two of you is actually not about either of you personally.
Rather, it is about how each of your respective jobs demand that you behave on an ongoing basis. You don’t have a choice.
So, the first step in getting more comfortable about dealing with non-performance is to understand and acknowledge that it’s never about you and someone else as “people”. It’s always about the job (function) that you represent.
2. This means that when you talk about non-performance, only talk about the function and never about the person.
Here’s a real world example of how to apply this…
“Michael, I’d like to speak to you about what your job demands that you do. The function clearly states that anyone in this job has to be ready to start work promptly at 9:30. Currently that hasn’t been happening and it needs to be rectified immediately.
Based on my job description, I have to have this conversion with you. I don’t have any choice. If I don’t speak with you about it, my manager will have to have a non-performance conversation with me because her job demands it. Nobody is ‘off -the-hook’ on this.
This is actually not about you or me at all. It is really about what our jobs require us to do on an ongoing basis.
That’s what they are paying us for – to be competent and professional resources at all times who understand clearly what our jobs demand of us.”
By framing it this way, the manager demonstrates that, at the macro level, it is always about the function and never about the person.
3. At the micro level, it is always about the issue and never about the person.
Here’s a real world example of what it sounds like:
“Amanda, I know that it’s really important to you to meet deadlines that you commit to and I realize that you’re upset because you missed the joint deadline on the Eclipse project you had with Joanne as result of her tardiness in delivering her part. We will deal with that issue at our next team meeting on Tuesday.
However, the issue I want to discuss with you is about a different report, the Nautilus project, that was due from you yesterday that was not completed. Your job demands that all reports are due on time so this is not actually about you, your upset or Joanne’s tardiness. The issue is the Nautilus report not being on time. And, since this had nothing to do with Joanne, it’s your responsibility to get this report in on time.
Just so you don’t misinterpret my intent, my job demands the same of me and that I have this conversation, on this issue, with you. Your job demands the same. Because, this is actually not about you or me at all. It is really about what our jobs require us to do on an ongoing basis. That’s what they are paying us for, to be competent and professional resources at all times who understand clearly what issues to appropriately focus on when relevant.”
As a manager, if you stay within the parameters of your function rather than focus on the person, it will ensure that you will always be invulnerable.If you make it about yourself and the other person, you run the risk of becoming vulnerable because you will have stepped outside the negotiated parameters of the job (function) they are paying you to do.
In summary it helps to remember:
1. It is not about you and the employee personally. It is only ever about the job.
2. At the macro level it is always about the function and not about the person.
3. At the micro level it is always about the issue and not about the person.
As a manager, your job demands this clarity in order for you to appropriately perform at the highest level of effectiveness.
About the Author
Philippe is the President of Denichaud Consulting Group and the founding partner of Breakthrough Management. He has consulted internationally to businesses across many industries, positively impacting organizations from the President down to those on the shop floor. His educational background is Commerce, Finance and Industrial Psychology. He is also a Certified Management Consultant (CMC). Click here for more information on Philippe’s work.
A special thank you to John Parikhal for his editorial support.