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Ever feel like you’ve tried every strategy, every approach, every angle, every tactic, over and over, and yet, you still cannot get that under-performing employee to meet expectations?

Managing performance is a fundamental part of any manager’s job. In the classes I teach on this topic, I meet a lot of managers whose ongoing challenge is getting staff to perform as expected. The managers are frustrated, tired, and want a better solution.

Is lack of strategy to blame? Probably not. Grab any smartphone and ask, “How do I manage employee performance?” Instantly, lists of strategies appear. Strategies abound. Having a great strategy is helpful, but I’ve found there is often something else in the way. An obstacle that must to be overcome before strategy can take effect.

The obstacle may not be a poor strategy - it may be state of mind.

The real, underlying issue is that most managers feel frustrated and upset about poor performance. Honestly, some are at their wits end. They’ve tried (what feels like) everything, and have worked hard to be positive, provide guidance, set goals, be supportive, etc.

After trying diligently, and failing repeatedly, you can understand how one might feel angry and judgmental. A manager can sometimes feel that an employee is purposefully under-performing! The situation can become personal.

No one is going to be a great manager (or coach) in that poor state of mind. Before change, transformation, or improvement can take place, we have to first unearth the state of mind that has subtly undermined every strategy the manager has tried.

How can a person who feels frustrated or judgmental overcome that obstacle?

In my classes, I begin by connecting with the frustration that comes from “having tried everything.” Using experiential exercises, we move in to that frustrated state of mind. We acknowledge and examine the validity of that state. We empathize with those familiar emotions, and help participants see that mindset is part of the challenge. Then, I guide them towards transforming the emotion. The solutions they come up with on their own are most powerful.

Next, we flip to the other side of the paradigm. Manager mindset is an important part of the equation, yet, equally important is understanding how the employee is feeling about this performance challenge. It’s a two-way street, and improvement can come from both directions. Once a manager overcomes their own obstacles, it’s easier for them to have empathy for the under-performer’s challenges.

The real issues come in to focus.

Solutions rise to the surface.

Solutions are not just a set of strategies. There’s a bigger picture. Participants in my classes often experience A-HA! moments when this concept becomes clear. It just makes sense.

  • Now they get it
  • Now they feel it
  • Now they are ready to try a new approach

Can I ensure they retain this sense of excitement and enthusiasm? Well, I can’t guarantee what will happen when they leave the room, but I can promote success by having them practice a "courage-and-vulnerability-based performance interview" while they are in an open and helpful (not frustrated and judgmental) state of mind.

I can also show them a Performance Interview roadmap that includes the very first step, “Get into the right state of mind for addressing your employee. Move out of judgment, and find empathy!”

The basic steps:

  1. Acknowledge your state of mind - is it an obstacle?
  2. Address that first.
  3. Then, choose an appropriate strategy.
  4. Practice!
  5. Revisit this state before you coach. 

If you'd like to learn how to coach for better performance, request a FREE consultation through my website: 

About the Author: Claire Laughlin is a highly regarded training expert who has dedicated her career to studying and improving patterns of communication in organizations. Claire works across various industries, coaching individuals and creating large scale, global-reaching training programs designed to uplift and support excellence across functions and cultural divides. Claire shares her expertise by offering training solutions for all levels of professional development.


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