I can’t believe its March; it means I have been under going rehabilitation for my ankle for six months now. I initially injured my ankle playing football in June 2013. At the time I didn’t go to physiotherapy, I just rested it and hoped that it would go away. It eventually did. I avoided football season in 2014, but in October 2014, I went down a flying fox and on my way back, I rolled my ankle on a tree root. Just like that, it flared up again and ached for days. I decided it was time for physio and rehab. Six months later, I am almost at pre-injury condition but I still have aches here and there, but all in all, I am almost 100% back to my original state.

You may be asking why I am telling that story? It made me think about managing performance. As an HR practitioner, I advise and support managers and business owners on how best to manage performance concerns. Almost always, I find out that performance has been a concern for a period of time and the manager has known that it was an issue but never did anything about it and hoped the problem would go away and resolve itself.

I then explain the fair process to dealing with performance and I hear the sigh that can only mean ‘are you serious? This is going to take forever’. What I try to explain is that if the concern was addressed informally when it first was identified as an issue, they could have identified the cause and worked through finding a resolution before they became so frustrated by it and wanted the employee gone. They are now at a point where they need to formally manage the concerns and put a plan in place to get the employee performing at the required standard. But do you know what? Performance improvement takes time, effort, training and a plan to get there. It also needs willingness from both the manager to want to coach and the employee to want to improve.

What I’ve learned from spending six months in rehab getting my ankle to perform and how this relates to helping employees perform:

  • When you get an injury, tend to it straight way – as soon as you become concerned by an employees performance, address it with them straight away. Take them into a meeting room and have a manager to employee chat that can start with, ‘Hey Don*, I’m noticing a few errors coming through on the data you’re required to check, what do you think may be causing this?’
  • If the pain persists, seek medical attention – if Don continues to make errors following your conversation, meet with him more formally (with specific instances of concerns), with a support person and try again to source the root of the problem and determine if a performance improvement plan needs to be put into place. Don’t just hope that the problem will go away because you talked to Don that one time.
  • Attend rehab regularly and measure progress – meet with them regularly and assess their performance against valid and simple measures. If there are areas that aren’t improving as quickly, find out why and adjust training where appropriate or take disciplinary action where it is warranted. Be clear about expectations and how long they have to meet them.
  • Don’t let it turn sceptic to the point you want to amputate it – not saying my ankle would’ve been amputated, but often performance concerns are left to the point of wanting to fire the employee out of frustration. The sooner it is dealt with, the less likely it will turn sceptic and needing amputation.

Working with employees to improve performance is a two way street, in most cases the employees aren’t even aware that they are under performing or not meeting expectations while the manager is pulling their hair out. Be open, talk about concerns when they crop up, not when they are causing issues on a daily basis. It may not always work out, but if it is handled well and with transparency, you may end up with an employee whose performance out shines your expectations!

Just like my ankle, it still aches now and again, but I ensure to follow my physio’s guidance and it helps the problem. Even if the plan has worked out, continue to be there for your employees, especially if they slip up now and again.

*The name ‘Don’ is a random name pulled from thin air.