Summer is for Managers (Part I)

While you might take a vacation, you never really take a complete break from being a manager. Over the next handful of weeks, we'll be offering up several of our most popular posts on the art and science of being a great manager. Enjoy, and let us know what you think.

Thousands of books have been written on managing employee performance, each volume offering theories and tactics more complicated than the one that preceded it. But like most things in life, simpler is better.

Recently I was discussing a thorny employee issue with a client, and as we mapped things out a simple 'test' presented itself. The three factors to be explored - in order - are clarity, capacity and will.

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When you're questioning a performance problem, you shouldn't simply call the employee in for a free form conversation or give him a list of complaints. Both approaches will lead to a bunch of random reactions and you'll get lost in the details very quickly. Instead, take things in order.

Clarity. Is the employee really - really - clear about what is expected? This is on you. Have you communicated effectively about the full expectations of the job or task? Have you put it in writing? You may have a clear picture of what needs to be done in your head, and right now it's probably fighting for space with all those frustrations you've developed. But you must take the time to carefully externalize the picture with your employee. Once that's done, you can move on to question number two...

Capacity. Is the employee capable of doing what is expected? You must ask hard questions about whether the employee's experience, skills and training fully enable to do what is needed. Many of us never ask this because it calls into question our own hiring practices. If you suspect a lack of training or adequate supervision is the issue, you may choose to apply time and resources. But don't forget to ask the hard question: can this employee do this job? When you've checked the boxes on clarity and capacity, you move on to the third and final issue...

Will. Is the employee willing to do what is required? This is the hardest but most important part of the test...and often we don't even consider it. Sometimes people don't do things simply because they don't want to. They will likely call out a lot of other issues and rationalizations. But if you look closely, a lack of will is not that hard to spot. And it's the issue that probably matters more than any other. This one is fully on the employee and you must act decisively when you see it. Say goodbye.

Don't just keep this test to yourself. Share it with other managers. Better yet, share it with the employee. Walk through the three questions and make the test the framework for your next performance discussion. It just might be the simple means of solving your toughest issues.