Berger Leadership Blog

How to help employees align performance perception with reality

Dan BergerSelf-awareness is critically important to personal and professional growth. If you're not honest about your performance or behavior, you won't take the necessary steps toward improvement. A challenge for leaders is coaching employees who may have mismatched perceptions of their performance and reality.

As we set goals and resolutions with our teams for the new year, the advice in this Harvard Business Review article from management consultant Liz Kislik will prove invaluable for leaders charged with managing an underperformer. Here's what she recommends:

  • Be clear about expectations: Providing direct feedback can be difficult. In an effort to avoid hurting someone's feelings, we often bookend conversations with positives and move quickly over the bad. But, if you're not clear about how an employee's lacking performance is negatively impacting the company or their future opportunities, they won't grasp the importance of making changes. Looking to improve your culture of feedback? Here are some tips to make it more receptive.
  • Provide employees with resources and support: We hire and promote people because we see their potential. But once they're in that role, leaders must continue to mentor and provide learning opportunities for sustained growth. An employee who doesn't have the skills or knowledge to do well will likely feel frustrated, potentially becoming disengaged and disillusioned with their role if they don't feel supported.
  • Determine whether you're willing to continue investing in the individual: There's only so much underperformance you can accept. If – after feedback and support – expectations still aren't being met, decide if there's a path forward. That might be changing their role or responsibilities to better fit their skills and knowledge. Whatever you decide, clearly communicate the reasoning behind the changes and what success looks like going forward.
  • Assess whether they'll accept help: You can't help someone who doesn't want it. An employee who lacks the self-awareness to recognize when they're struggling and the humility to accept help can quickly poison your culture. Be ready to step in guard against bad influences on your team.
  • Target praise carefully: It's important to recognize good work. For an underperforming employee, though, Kislik recommends connecting positive feedback to another area that needs improvement. This will help the employee see what behaviors are expected for success and how to apply them to their overall job performance.

Helping an employee turn their performance around will take a lot of commitment from both you and them. While there might be some lost causes, don't take the easy way out without putting in the effort. Because if you're successful, you, your employee, and organization will be stronger for it.

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About the Author

B. Dan Berger, President and CEO, NAFCU

Dan BergerB. Dan Berger first joined NAFCU in 2006 and helped turn the association into the premiere advocate for the credit union industry. Since becoming president and CEO in 2013, Berger, who is also an author, economist, and one of Washington's top lobbyists, is credited with bringing national attention to key policy issues, while ensuring NAFCU's members meet policymakers at the highest levels of government.

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