Ask an Expert: The Development Side of Training
Amy Hawkins, Training & Organizational Development Consultant, POD
We all wish our employees could intuit exactly what is expected of them. That we could clearly convey expectations or disapproval via an arched brow or plaintive sigh. That our soft-pedaled suggestions could be interpreted as loud and clear calls to action. Unfortunately for us, most humans are not mind-readers (and our faculty and staff here at the UW, though gifted, are no exception).
Performance management is key for organizational success, and in my work I’ve found that many leaders—supervisors, administrators, directors, deans, and chairs alike—are only really comfortable when managing stellar performance. When there are issues or concerns, people get a little squeamish. Leaders sometimes reach for coaching or training for their employees to solve performance problems, but these tools may fall flat, or even backfire, if used indiscriminately or punitively.
Talk About It First
An employee shouldn’t hear about your concerns from a coach or shouldn’t have a sneaking suspicion while sitting in a class that you had a hidden agenda in sending them there. If you (or others on your team) have concerns about an employee’s actions, behavior, communication, deliverables, etc., it’s your job to communicate those concerns.
As much as it may be tempting to sign an employee up for coaching or training in response to your concerns, first ask yourself:
- Have you set clear and direct expectations for how the employee should execute their job?
- Have you expressed to the employee that specific actions or behaviors are inappropriate or undesirable and are impacting their ability to be successful?
- Have you been honest with the employee when you’ve been disappointed or dissatisfied with their work?
- Have you or others established work-arounds due to the employee being perceived as difficult or incompetent?
In other words, has the employee heard about this from you before?
Seek Help on Giving Feedback
If an employee hasn’t heard your expectations or concerns—specifically and directly—why not? If the thought of giving constructive feedback or having a difficult conversation turns your anxiety or avoidance meter to ten, you may want to work on sharpening your own skills before turning your attention to your employee’s. The UW has a variety of free and fee-based services to assist leaders:
UW CareLink offers 24/7 guidance and coaching specifically for managers (at no cost to you or your department); representatives provide support for handling difficult employee interactions, talking about work performance, and maintaining positive, productive work environments. Call 1-866-598-3978 to access the free managerial consultation.
Your Human Resources Consultant through central HR is available to help coach and prepare you for growth conversations and provide coaching options. You don’t need to wait until a crisis to call your HRC!
SafeCampus may be appropriate to contact for guidance in how and what to provide as appropriate feedback to employees, especially when there’s been a noticeable change in an employee’s behavior or an unusual outburst has happened. SafeCampus staff can work with you to assess a situation and figure out the next steps for you and your department.
POD offers individual leadership coaching through its internal and external consultants. In addition, a number of classes can help leaders with conflict, constructive feedback, and performance management, including Conflict Management, How to Give and Receive Feedback, and Managing Employee Performance. POD also hosts an Employee Career Development page with resources and tips for managers.
Focus on the Opportunity for Development
If you’ve given an employee clear feedback and your concerns have gone unheeded or your expectations unmet (or progress has been inadequate), it may be time to seek outside help via training or coaching. It’s important for both you and the employee to see this in a positive light as a development opportunity, not as punishment or retribution.
- Present the opportunity. Let the employee know you and your department are investing in them because you value them and think they’re worth it. Present a variety of options to the employee; this may include classes, webinars, coaching, or other development opportunities. In some cases, you may want to ask the employee for additional ideas. Reiterate that you want the employee to succeed and that this is an opportunity for them to grow and develop.
- Clarify the purpose. You can’t control to what extent or in exactly what direction an employee will grow or develop. Think of your objectives in terms of what can benefit both the employee and the department. It can be helpful to frame your objectives with a purpose statement, such as, "I’d like for you to have the opportunity to learn some new tools and strategies and hope that by gaining more project management expertise you can continue to add value to the team."
Once you’ve laid the groundwork and invested in coaching or training, don’t let it go to waste. Hold the employee accountable by following up with them and, as appropriate, revisiting the objectives you outlined. Talking to the employee about what they learned and how they plan to apply it is key to getting a good return on your investment. In addition, give positive feedback when you notice an improvement. This is a great way to talk about what new techniques or strategies the employee is using and what is (and perhaps isn’t) working for them.
Many people seek coaching and training for growth or advancement unrelated to performance concerns, and sending an employee to coaching or training, with no context or explanation, is not in itself performance management. That said, if wielded thoughtfully, coaching and training can be powerful tools for managing employee performance.