Years ago, I was just starting a new role as an operations leader covering the Southeast U.S. It was a fun and exciting time traveling to each location and introducing myself. I dropped in on one of my locations where we had an interim leader and I’ll never forget the interaction.
“Hey, so glad to meet you!” – Me
“I’m glad you are here, I need help firing _____. They just aren’t going to work out….” – Interim leader
Wow! What a first impression #1! Secondly, it was immediately obvious that this leader didn’t take the time to walk through the proper steps in performance management. They had a personality conflict and wanted to do be done with the other person.
So when is the best time to start performance management?
Catch issues early through coaching
Sometimes when we think of performance management, we think of write-ups, warnings, and other very formal and serious moments. A great leader knows that performance management starts in the small coaching moments that you have with others and is not about a “gotcha” moment but instead is all about embracing accountability with each other.
Step up to those sometimes difficult conversations early so that the issue doesn’t continue to grow. Remember to separate your affirmations from your feedback. Avoid the sandwich approach to feedback and let your affirmation be endearing and let your feedback stand on its own.
Document the journey
It’s always best to document the journey of performance management, especially once you see it begin to take more than just informal coaching. I would recommend documenting verbal warnings or formal coaching sessions, Now does that mean you have to sit down in front of them and tell them that you are documenting the process of a coaching session? No, but it helps so you can A) remember the timeframe of the coaching and what was expected going forward and B) Helps you immensely if you need to go further down a formal path because it shows others that you may need to partner with that you didn’t just arrive at where are in the process.
Take advantage of your companies automated processes if you have those available. If not, I’ve done things like email myself the note and keep it in a specific folder. This way I get the written piece with a timestamp of when it happened. Others keep written notes in locked files to keep them safe and secure. Whatever your method, keep it simple and secure.
Bring in a partner
It’s good to bring in a partner to help give you an unbiased take on the situation as performance management gets more formal and is heading towards a written performance improvement plan. Some companies have HR partners specifically for employee issues, others have an HR generalist or the direct supervisor is involved. Whatever your process is, hear me say, don’t go it alone!
I’ve seen many situations over the years turn ugly because a leader didn’t bring in a partner during the process and has created quite a mess that others have to clean up.
We all need help with things in leadership. There is no judgment about you when you ask for help in coaching and providing performance management for people. Reach out, be transparent, and let others affirm and help guide you as you coach others.
Then there’s the extremes and one-offs
There are going to be times that a teammate has such a break in trust and policy that you should skip steps and go straight to a final written warning, suspension, or even termination. These hopefully are very rare for you though, and the grievance should warrant the consequence. It’s imperative here that you partner with someone else to make sure that you covered all your bases legally and ethically before taking this step.
It’s hard to be too early in accountability, but it’s easy to be too late. Honor and care for your people enough to coach early with empathy and respect. Document the journey and bring in partners along the way. You serve your team well when you help them stay accountable to the agreed-upon results.
Make a better tomorrow.