Great performance management requires managers to create an environment in which employees are enabled to perform to the best of their abilities.
Being able to do that will depend heavily on whether you’ve mastered these five essential performance management skills.
Skill 1: Listening
Good communication is achieved more through a manager’s ability to listen than on his or her speaking skills. When leaders listen well, they absorb issues, understand feelings, foresee potential problems and solutions, and eventually communicate the right decisions in the right tone.
Any leader can hear and parrot back information. Good leaders listen so they can process the information.
Follow these tips to better listening:
• Keep yourself clear. When employees, colleagues, clients or customers need their managers, it’s important to give them undivided attention by talking privately at an arranged time with no distractions (e-mail, phones, paperwork).
Tip: When employees ask their managers, “Do you have a minute?” If they don’t have time they can respond, “I only have a minute right now. If you need more time, I’d be happy to arrange a meeting later today.”
• Take notes. This serves two purposes: It helps leaders remember what’s been said and keeps track of the most important facts and emotions. Taking notes also shows people you care and are listening whole-heartedly.
• Hold your tongue. Avoid interrupting speakers, especially in one-on-one conversations. Let others get through the facts and emotions. Often, just spilling their guts is enough to make them feel better – and you’re a hero for listening and not saying a word!
• Get focused. If managers have an important task to accomplish, they should make a note of it before they start a conversations with someone. That way they can stop thinking about the call to make, e-mail to send, report to finish, etc., and focus on the conversation at hand.
• Withhold judgment. Put aside unrelated personal feelings about people and their circumstances when listening to them. Instead, focus on the facts and acknowledge emotions.
• Be open to opinions. Leaders sometimes don’t agree with what employees, co-workers, clients and customers say – and stop listening because they’re focusing on their rebuttal. Instead, they should continue to listen and note their points when it’s their turn to talk.
• Respond, don’t react. Finally, when you’re done listening and ready to talk, focus on giving a response rather than a reaction. What’s the difference?
• A response is a balance of thought and emotion, and often includes a question so you can better understand.
• A reaction is mostly an emotional action that lacks thought and understanding of what the other person said.
Skill 2: Communicating
Communicating well is the cornerstone of good relationships. Whether leaders are talking to employees or colleagues, writing e-mails, training or speaking in front of a group, these communication essentials will help:
• Create a commonality. Once leaders know their colleagues and employees, they can share information about themselves that they have in common (for instance, a hobby, past experience in work or life, an interest in events or sports, etc.). It makes them more approachable.
• Be courteous. People will listen, and things will get done if managers communicate with courtesy. For example, “Can you please …?” “I need you to do … Will you be able to?” “Please take care of …”
• Be consistent. Match your tone of voice with your words.
• Clarify. When the topic is important (not just casual), it’s vital for managers to make sure they’re understood. For example, they could ask “What questions do you have about this report?”
• Show confidence. Back up statements with facts. Leaders should try to avoid tentative language such as might, maybe, possibly and ASAP.
Soft skill 3: Delivering bad news
Only one thing can be worse than hearing bad news: delivering it. Nearly every leader has to deliver bad news at one time or another. Doing it with finesse will help managers go down in company history as a well-liked professional.
Here’s how to deliver bad news so it’s a little easier on the people affected by it:
• Make it fast. Delivering the news as quickly as possible gives people a chance to plan their next move. One caveat: Avoid delivering bad news on a Friday (or whatever is the end of the work week) so the news doesn’t fester with people for days, and they come back to work upset or resentful.
• Visit or call. Deliver bad news personally. When leaders do this, it shows they care about how the news will affect their people. Delivering bad news via e-mail or a memo suggests leaders are distancing themselves from the people and situation.
• Be honest. Managers don’t have to reveal every detail (because some are personnel- or financial-related). Plus, people don’t have time for all the details. But to maintain credibility, leaders want to avoid covering up mistakes, forgetfulness or miscommunications that led to decisions and bad news.
• Take responsibility. Leaders don’t want to blame themselves, their bosses or the company if they aren’t to blame. Then again, don’t blame “the economy” for everything, either. Acknowledge your part in the situation without being defensive.
• Respond. Give employees, co-workers, clients or customers a chance to discuss how the bad news affects them. Acknowledge their feelings, and offer suggestions on how to deal with the situation.
Soft skill 4: Negotiating
Most leaders negotiate from the moment they get up in the morning, through the workday and well into the evening whether it’s with family, friends or co-workers.
No matter the situation, the most successful negotiators still develop long-term relationships, and help themselves and others succeed in the end.
Leaders who strive to get what they want, but be fair and keep others happy, follow these negotiating tactics:
• Balance participation. All people want to be involved in decisions that affect them. Once managers offer their thoughts and positions, it’s a good idea to ask for the other person’s thoughts on the subject. Most importantly, managers should consider how the benefits and drawbacks affect others before they meet. Managers who see the situation through their employees’ eyes often find reasonable solutions faster.
• Understand the other side. Before moving on to the final decisions and solutions, it’s important for managers to show they’ve heard and understand what others have said and feel. Some key phrases:
• “I understand that you want … ”
• “I sense that you feel this way about the situation … ”
• “You seem to want … Do I have that right?”
• “Your position is … Would you agree with my assessment?”
• Be prepared to offer several options. It’s a good idea for leaders to come to the meeting knowing their highest priorities and what they’d be willing to give up to make negotiations work. They should also encourage others to do the same. Then once both sides understand one another’s positions, leaders can throw out several potential solutions.
Soft skill 5: Giving criticism
Unfortunately, employees don’t always do things that make their managers proud, or perform at a level that deserves thanks and recognition. Then managers have to criticize employees’ work or behavior. While this is a task no manager looks forward to, it can be done with finesse and without making employees resentful.
Here are seven keys for delivering criticism with finesse:
- Behind closed doors. Follow the old rule “Praise in public, criticize in private.”
2. No finger-pointing. When phrases like “You should have … ” or “Why didn’t you … ?” are used, people quickly become defensive.
Instead, try one of these:
• “I’ve noticed that you … ”
• “I don’t know if you’ve noticed that you … ”
3. Avoid sugarcoating. Many leaders don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings, so they “sandwich” criticism between two compliments. Avoid this because some people will filter out the criticism and focus on the praise. Instead go right to the issue, mention past successes and ask where the problem is.
Example: “Joan, this report is incomplete. You’re usually very thorough. Can you tell me what’s happened here?”
4. Criticize one thing at a time. Criticizing several things at one time will lighten the importance of each item. Plus, it’ll make people feel as if they’re failing at everything – not just one or two things.
5. Be specific about the change that’s needed. Often what leaders want fixed, stopped or changed is obvious to them, but may not be so obvious to the person who needs to do it. So it’s vital to be specific on what needs to change. For example, instead of, “From now on, I need it ASAP,” say “Starting this week, I want it by 9 a.m. Friday.” Or instead of, “You need to eliminate more errors,” say, “You’ll have to drop the error rate by 50%.”
6. Be timely. This makes the feedback seem supportive, not critical. While it isn’t always practical to hold off on criticism, this approach allows managers to help employeesmake adjustments that will last longer.
7. Involve others. Even when managers have specific changes in mind that need to be made, employees are more likely to embrace the changes when they’re part of the solution. Consider saying:
• “Do you have any ideas on how to make sure you … ”
• “What can I do to help you … ?”
• “I have some suggestions on how you can do this, but let me hear your ideas first.”