One of the primary duties of a manager is to keep the performance of employees at a high level. Indeed, much of what a manager does will affect the productivity level of the employees he or she supervises.
There are four general techniques that have a great effect on the productivity of an employee. They are:
Coaching is the ongoing, informal training and encouragement that a manager gives employees on a regular basis. It confirms to the employee that he or she is doing well and gives him or her confidence to continue the behavior. It most often takes place while the employee is working.
Feedback occurs when managers provide specific information to employees to let them know how well he or she is performing. This frequently takes place while the employee is working or when he or she has just completed a task.
Managers who counsel employees show them what they need to do to improve performance. Counseling should be conducted in private, away from other employees.
Discipline are the actions a manager takes to help employees follow the company’s rules. It is often a last-resort technique implemented when employees break rules or as a precursor to termination.
Coaching typically takes place at the employee’s workstation during normal, day-to-day activities. The manager coaches when he or she offers a piece of advice or a quick sentence of praise. Coaching does not have to be entirely verbal, though. A manager might demonstrate a task or provide a coaching tool such as handbooks, logs, manuals, tip card, posters, or checklists.
Coaching benefits both employees and managers as it:
- It usually takes only a few minutes. This means it doesn’t interfere with anyone’s routine.
- Prevents small problems from growing, often preventing more extensive or serious measures later.
- It helps employees see that the manager cares about them and appreciates their improvement.
- Helps employees understand and fulfill the company’s quality standards.
Coaching is fairly simple. The manager must observe the employee’s work carefully enough to be aware they are doing something right or that they have a problem, but not so closely that the employee feels spied upon. The manager must then decide how to approach the employee and when to do the coaching.
Another coaching method involves pairing an experienced employee with the employee that needs help or is new to the company. This “buddy” system can help transfer the good work habits of one employee to the other.
To truly improve employee performance, managers need to provide feedback on an ongoing basis. Immediate feedback is the most useful as it usually leads to improved performance as soon as it is given. It also helps prevent employees from forming bad habits that quickly become ingrained.
Feedback can be positive or corrective. Positive feedback consists of giving a reward to employees when they do something correctly or well. It includes raises, bonuses, promotions, formal recognition at meetings, or just plan praise. It tells employees what they are doing well and encourages further efforts. It can also prevent discipline problems from occurring later on.
Corrective feedback involves showing an employee a quick way to solve a performance problem. It can be uncomfortable to give corrective feedback. One way to ease the discomfort is for managers to recognize that corrective feedback can benefit the employees as well as the company. How? It shows employees what they can do to work more effectively and confidently, it helps them develop good work habits, and it increases motivation as employees know that their manager cares whether they do a good job.
Some managers even find it difficult to deliver positive feedback as they worry about sounding insincere, glossing over other performance issues, or being accused of favoritism. Yet, positive feedback has too many benefits to ignore. It boosts employee confidence levels, reinforces good work habits, and increases motivation as employees will realize that their manager notices when they do a good job.
Here are some tips for providing corrective feedback:
- Ask employees how they can correct the problem and create an action plan together.
- Provide corrective feedback only in private and then don’t raise the issue again unless it is necessary.
- Remember that feedback is a two-way process. Give employees a chance to respond or explain why something was done a particular way.
- Don’t get personal; criticize the performance, not the person.
- Explain the consequences of behaviors or performance does not change. Let the employees know that what they are doing affects their co-workers. Help them to see the big picture and promote teamwork.
- Be specific. Concentrate on a single performance issue or problem at a time.
- Make sure your explanations are clear.
Counseling is the step that follows coaching and feedback. It is a more serious step and is taken when a manager is concerned that an employee doesn’t understand expected performance standards.
Used correctly, counseling may:
- Prevent disciplinary actions or even terminations
- Reduce turnover and its associated costs
- Show employees that the manager is committed to their job success
- Help the manager fulfill legal obligations to employees.
A counseling session takes more planning and preparation than either coaching or feedback. A manager needs to have a definite objective for the counseling session. Some managers find it helpful to write out exactly what they will stress and what questions they will ask employees. Managers should schedule the session when it won’t interfere with the employee’s regular work or breaks. They should also tell employees when the session will be as far in advance as possible.
Managers have an obligation to gather information, including job incident reports and the employee’s work history. They should talk to other managers who work with the employee to get an idea of what needs to be stressed.
Finally, managers should make an effort to understand how the employee feels about the counseling process and the topics under discussion. The manager needs to present the information in a way that won’t make the employee feel stupid, punished, or the victim of personal differences. He or she should also plan how to end the session on a positive note.
When conducting a counseling session, a manager may want to consider these five steps:
- Hold the session in a private place where there will be no interruptions.
- Establish a comfortable atmosphere, emphasizing that the manager is trying to help the employee improve.
- Start slowly, appearing calm and patient so as not to threaten the employee.
- Describe the problem in a caring, positive way, making it clear that the goal is to discuss the problem and solve it, not to blame the employee.
- Ask the employee to help solve the problem or identify its cause.
Here are some additional tips for conducting effective counseling sessions:
- Watch body language to determine how the employee feels about the session.
- Listen actively. Listen more than you talk.
- Keep the session focused on the issue.
- Ask the employee to state the problems in his or her own words.
- Write out some of the employee’s ideas for improving performance.
- Pay special attention to what the employee says at the end of the session. It may be more to the point and significant when he or she feels the meeting is about to close.
- Set an appointment for a follow-up session.
Managers are responsible for enforcing company rules and procedures. Most employees try to do as they are supposed to, but when they don’t the manager has to use discipline.
Many employees react to discipline with anger, embarrassment, humiliation, resentment, and so on. These reactions can make discipline sessions difficult and nerve-wracking for managers.
Experts point out the following reasons why managers have a tough time disciplining employees:
- Thinking that “the employee knows what’s wrong, so why should I rub it in?”
- Fear of the situation becoming emotional
- Feeling that I’ve done the same thing myself; how can I discipline somebody else for it?
- Fear that management won’t back up the discipline
- Not knowing how to begin
- Lack of training in disciplining employees
Another reason managers dislike having to discipline employees is that they think “punishment” rather than “teaching.” Discipline should be a technique to help employees be more successful in their jobs. Indeed, its objections should be to encourage employees to follow the rules, to allow employees to work together safely, and to set up an atmosphere of mutual respect and job satisfaction.
If the discipline problem is a small one, managers can correct it quickly by stating the rule, explaining it, discussing why it is in the employee’s best interest to follow the rule, and then offering encouragement.
If the discipline issue is a serious one, managers will most likely have to have a discipline discussion with the employee. During this meeting, managers should establish their concern for the employee as well as the problem in a straightforward statement. They should be specific and explain how they feel without getting emotional. Managers should then ask the employee for an explanation and try to agree on a way to solve the problem. At the end of the meeting, the manager should set a date for a follow-up meeting and end the discussion positively.
It is not uncommon for employees to respond emotionally to discipline. They may react with anger, quick agreement, or silence. If they respond with anger, the manager should try to remain calm and listen. He or she then must try to help the employee see the situation objectively. When an employee quickly agrees with the manager, it may be to get the session over with more quickly. In this case, the manager can move away from the problem and focus immediately on a solution. If the employee is silent, it may be because he or she is hiding anger or fear. Managers facing silence should take a non-threatening but direct approach. They can explain succinctly the problem and then ask the employee an open-ended question.
Finally, here are a handful of tips for managers who must discipline employees:
- Don’t discuss the discipline session with other employees. It could be a violation of the employee’s privacy rights and you will lose credibility with employees if you talk about things that should be confidential.
- Check with the human resources department before scheduling a discipline discussion. Some companies want two representatives present.
- If an employee complains of harassment, check with the human resources department before giving out discipline. It may be necessary to consult a lawyer.
- If a discipline session results in improved employee performance, don’t hesitate to congratulate the employee on his or her success. And congratulate yourself on your success.