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How to improve your staff's performance

How to improve your staff's performance

Graham Winter is an organisational psychologist and author who has worked in business and elite sport. After serving as chief psychologist for three Australian Olympic Teams (including Sydney 2000), he spent six years with PwC as designer of high-performance leadership programs. In 2008, Winter founded Think One Team International (TOTI), a specialist Australian consulting and training firm. His books include the best-selling Think One Team, described as an inspiring fable and practical guide for managers and employees. Here he shares some of his insight with Resilium.

What are the key rules for managing workplace performance?

There are two key rules that can make or break most businesses when it comes to performance. First, establish clear and agreed expectations for tasks and behaviours.

Second, make regular catch-up/debriefing conversations a part of the operating rhythm of the business. By doing this, you get everyone on one page and you can keep them there when things are (inevitably) changing.

How closely linked are workplace performance and profit?

Profit is always a function of a range of factors such as business strategy, market conditions and employee productivity. There’s no question that there is a close relationship between profit and performance. However, the smart businesses reinvest a good portion of profits into the business.

How can you identify underperformers?

Start by establishing clear expectations for behaviours, outputs and outcomes, and then have regular catch-ups. Unfortunately, there are many managers who don’t do this, which means it then comes either as a surprise or a very difficult conversation when poor performance needs to be addressed. To be blunt, more underperformance is due to poor management than it is to employee capability or motivation.

The answer is so simple: get clear expectations and then have regular conversations about what’s working and what isn’t.

How can you engage them in a positive and proactive light?

When someone is struggling with poor performance, avoid jumping to judgement. Instead start by asking and challenging yourself: “Have I really set up this person to succeed?”

Then follow these five steps. First, have a calm one-on-one conversation. Next, put together an honest, balanced case of what they’re doing well and what they are not. Thirdly, ask for their thoughts and feelings. Once you’ve done this, explain what’s needed, and then secure commitment to a plan. Finally you need to coach the person through the process of either improving or ultimately moving on to another role or employer.

How important is teamwork when it comes to managing workplace performance?

Teamwork is absolutely essential. The connection between people, and the way they cooperate and collaborate, are critical success factors for every organisation.

Interestingly, it’s not so much about people ‘gelling’ – it’s more about learning to work with people who think differently to you. That takes a bit of emotional intelligence, which simply means that people are aware of differences in problem-solving styles, in extroversion and introversion, and in the way they like to work.

Could you give some examples of businesses that have turned around after addressing underperformers?

I’m pleased to say that there are many. However, the ‘overnight transformation’ is a myth. Real, sustainable change takes weeks or months – but it sticks.

For example, we trained a group of building company managers in a collaborative problem-solving tool and approach. The program included a workshop and then at-work practice using the tool for 12 weeks. They’ve made business-changing improvements in their tendering processes, in OH&S and in employee communication through continuing to apply the tool.

Another example is a large software and services business. We created an alternative to the traditional performance review (called performance partnering) and the results in employee productivity and performance have been so substantial that their US parent company has just asked us to roll out the program across the world.

What’s the best piece of advice you received when starting up your own business?

The advice that still resonates for me is to apply three tests to anything we choose to tackle:

  1. You can be really good at it.
  2. You are passionate about it.
  3. It pays.

Everyone can apply those three tests, irrespective of whether they are a business owner or looking for a job. Brilliant advice!

Performance levels of your staff can make or break your business. Learn how to motivate them to work more effectively.

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