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What I have come to learn in my career as a leader is there are several categories of employees when it comes to performance management. Of course, each category can have one to many sub categories because, let’s face it, no one is exactly the same. But generally speaking in my humble opinion, I have identified three main categories when I am developing strategies to help my employees or mentees grow their careers.
My first category is the “Struggler” and can be the most difficult for a manager to work with. Most of you probably know what I am talking about and have either been a Struggler yourself at one point in your career or have managed a Struggler. Strugglers tend to be employees most managers would love to vote off their island if this was like a reality TV show game. They make your life difficult at best and can leave even the most seasoned manager pulling their hair out. Strugglers tend to bring the whole team down because they fail at getting the job done, at least to the standards of the organization.
My second category of employee is the “Average Joe.” These employees tend to be just that, average. They tend to know their job and get assignments, tasks, and projects completed timely and correctly. But they might appear to have no drive, no ambition, and no career goals. That is most likely very far from the truth. In the IT service and support industry, we often encounter people who are “introverted” introverts and not competitive when it comes to career advancement, especially with Average Joes.
The third type of employee I categorize is the “Rock Star.” Rock Stars are employees that just know what to do and usually have no problem getting the job done. They have higher expectations for themselves than even you do for them. Some have big ambitions, others just like to do what they do, and some just want to move up as fast as they can. Rock Stars can be just as hard to manage as Strugglers and often even more challenging.
It took me many years to truly understand there were different types of employees. I just figured all people would just show up and do their job. The problem was my expectations for them were the same as mine were for myself. So what do I do?
First, I stopped treating all employees the same! Sure they all have to follow the basic rules like come to work and do their jobs well. But I changed how I interact with them as individuals. I used to give everyone that worked for me, that did the same job, the same goals. I expected every one of them to be able to perform all of the job requirements with the same effort and ability. Once I got serious about being a good leader, I looked at performance management in a whole new light. It was not fair to make a Struggler keep pace with a Rock Star. That would be like asking a recreational jogger to keep pace with a marathon runner.
Second, I start by meeting with each person on my team every other week for a one-on-one meeting. In the beginning, I start with explaining what these meetings will be about. I explain my strategy to help them manage their career. We talk about their strengths and how they can apply that to the overall team effort. Then we talk about what is in it for them, why doing and being the best they can will benefit them.
I start off each one-on-one meeting asking them what they want to talk about during our time. It doesn’t matter what I want to talk about if their mind is somewhere else. By doing more listening than talking, I find out things like their hobbies and stresses in their personal life that could be affecting work. You would not believe how many times we were able to translate hobbies and likes into things they could contribute at work. I have a few people that do things like film production, music writing, and web design for hobbies that have turned out to be of use in their work setting. They become a subject matter expert in that area to their peers.
By taking these things I have learned about them, I can recognize ways to let them shine. They get involved in different tasks, projects, and roles the organization may not have or even knew we needed. For example, we had a person who created short films as a hobby. I had been wanting for years to make short instructional videos for our customers but just did not know how to do it. Turned out all I had to do was buy a few tools and set this person loose. He wrote the scripts, created the videos, and even connected it all with voiceovers. The great part is the way it was done we can swap out any part of the videos if something needs to be changed. We all know technology changes faster than gossip, well almost.
Third, we never have just a yearly performance evaluation. I make sure we talk about things on our organization’s yearly performance evaluation with my people when things happen. I use a tool (pictured below) in our one-on-one meetings that allows both of us to see the meeting notes at any time. The tool allows us to put one subject, topic, role, etc. on individual cards so we can focus each meeting on what we need to. We can both update the card any time and attach documentation, if applicable. For example, if a customer sends me an email telling me how awesome this person was, I attach it to the card, we discuss it, and guess what? We have this on record for their annual performance evaluation.
The point of this tool is to allow us to keep track of the employee’s career every step of the way. No more trying to remember everything they did good (or bad) once a year. My employees all know where they stand each day, not once per quarter, every six months, or once per year. I have been able to reduce the amount of performance improvement plans I used to write and deliver. Because we address any issues and concerns on a regular basis, corrective actions can be put in place at any time. The best part about this is the employee usually is the one who comes up with ways to improve—buy in by them, WOW!
Last, we regularly talk about their career. You know, what they want to be when they grow up. In fact, this topic is a card on our agenda so we remember to discuss it from time to time. If they do not have a career goal in mind, we talk about what career interests they have that we can start with. For instance, I had a service desk analyst who wanted to take the next step in her career but did not know where to step. She did not know what she really wanted to do next. We talked about her involvement in a few projects, and it turned out she really liked working on them. So we promoted her to a different team where she became an assistant technical project manager.
So remember, if you want to build a great team, start with one person at a time.
Thomas Wilk is an IT manager at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He has become a performance improvement leader, helping employees find their way along their career path. As a mentor to managers, he helps them develop leadership skills so they can better engage with their staff. Tom has a bachelor’s degree in Information Science and is currently working towards a master’s degree at Carnegie Mellon University in the Public Management program. To see more from Tom, visit his YouTube channel.
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