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The TARGET approach to delivering performance feedback

One of the great injustices that managers enable on a regular basis is not addressing performance issues when they see them occur. Not only is it an issue with not addressing the performance issues, but it is also an issue of not addressing them specifically with their staff. The best managers are straight shooters – they call things as they see them. Meaning, if there is a gap in their staffs’ performance, they address it. There is nothing worse than managers who completely ignore performance issues (they shouldn’t even be managers if they do this because this is a “will” issue not skill) or managers who try and soften the blow when discussing performance deficiencies (skill issue). Their performance conversations become watered down versions of the real issue and it ends up causing confusion for the employee (and manager) in the long run.

TargetThe good news is that the latter situation provides us with an opportunity for improvement. Through some help and coaching, these managers can move the needle on their skill and ability in having these performance types of conversations. The former situation, well, you need to get those folks out of management roles now – they are killing your company.
Here is the funny thing – in my dealings with hundreds of managers over the years, I always tell them the same thing when it comes to delivering negative performance feedback – your staff will thank you for it. Yup, you heard that right; they will thank you for it. Most employees genuinely want to know when and where they are missing the mark. The majority of your staff want to do a good job for you and in the absence of feedback, they will continue to do the job the same way they have always done it – whether it is good/bad or right/wrong.

They will appreciate it when you identify gaps in their performance and help them in adjusting their performance so that they can meet your expectations. No one, I repeat NO ONE, wants to find out for the first time that they haven’t been doing a good job come performance review time. Worse yet, I have seen far too many cases of employees being passed over for promotions (that they thought they were ready for) because of backroom discussions that take place about their (poor) performance. To that, I say shame on the manager and shame on the organization for allowing that to happen.

Hopefully I still have your attention and you are nodding your head in agreement that these types of problems and issues exist. The next question than is, “well Scott, can you give us some advice on how to have these types of conversations?” Because I don’t want this post to be all about bad management tactics, I want to provide you with a useful acronym (who doesn’t like these) to help drive these performance conversations. Assuming this is all done in a respectful, private manner, here is how good managers address performance issues with their staff through the use of the TARGET approach:

Tangible – when engaging in conversation with your employee about a performance gap, you need to provide something tangible to anchor the conversation. Be specific about what the problem is and provide something tangible, in the form of metrics, manager observation, etc. that identifies the gap. This then becomes the baseline for the rest of your conversation.

Accountable – during your discussions with your employee you need to make it clear to them that they are accountable for their performance and the improvement that you are looking for. Depending on the severity and impact of the gap, this is a critical part of the discussion because you want your employee to understand why the improvement is necessary and they need to understand the implications if there isn’t an improvement.

Reaction – during the delivery of your message, you want to gauge the reaction of your employee to what you have presented them with. Did they understand your message? What is their body language telling you? Do they seem genuinely committed to accepting the feedback and improving? Do they look confused? Don’t hesitate to clarify and/or indicate to them what you are seeing. i.e. “Jane, I can tell by the way that you are looking at me that I might not have effectively explained where I am looking for your performance to improve. Please let me clarify so that we are both on the same page.” This is a key step because you don’t want to conclude your coaching session believing that you and the employee are on the same page and the right track to improvement when the reality is that you might not be.

Gather –consensus at the end of the meeting on the go forward approach. You want the employee’s buy-in on what they need to do to improve as well as what they need from you in the form of support. This way, if you have worked towards a consensus based outcome, your staff member is bought into the solution on how to improve their performance and they don’t feel as though they have been dictated to. Anchor everything with the tangible evidence your provided and the element of accountability that was established.

Explicit –during your feedback meeting, as a manager, you always need to be explicit in providing your tangible evidence, what your expected performance outcomes are and what the way ahead needs to be. Meaning, you can’t sugar coat the problem or attempt to water down the severity. If you have an employee who struggles to set up a basic Excel spreadsheet and they work in an accounting function, don’t tell them that their computer skills need improvement. You need to identify what specifically it is that they aren’t doing and what the impact is. “Mark, a critical piece of your role as an AP clerk is to be able to enter and calculate our warehouse payables into an Excel spreadsheet. I have observed that you have not been able to do this without asking for assistance on a regular basis from your peers. This is negatively impacting their workload.” See the difference between the generic, wishy-washy statement vs. the explicit, evidence based example?

Thanks – it may sound funny but close your meeting by thanking your employee. Thank them for listening to and accepting your feedback (even though the might not have actually done so yet!). Thank them for taking the time to process the information, hearing what you had to say to them and for wanting to improve. Close the conversation by assuring them that you are there to help and support them.

If you keep the TARGET approach in mind the next time you identify performance issues and need to coach your staff, I am sure you will have greater success with your outcomes. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of arztsamui/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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