Are You Carrying the Burden of Goal Setting in Performance Discussions?


Is it that time again? Do I have to have another conversation with Melissa? Didn’t we just have one?

There are some employees that require a lot of support, while others are considered “low maintenance”. Why is that? You just had what you thought was a good conversation with Melissa in the past few weeks but the issue is back. You would like to say what was on your mind with some candor but you know that would involve  a rather pointed conversation with the union rep or HR.  Both groups won’t have nice things to say. I recently heard a comedian talking about marriage in the same way. When your spouse asks you a question, you always give them the second answer that comes to your mind as the first answer is always the wrong one. Working with employees, especially challenging ones is the same.

Performance Management is a process that is used in all workplaces, regardless of how big or small your group is. I do believe this process is under some significant changes that are actually going to make everyone happy, but just not in the early stages of the change. Change is hard for 90% of people. We all know this but when it happens, even for the better, we yearn for the good old days. Let me tell you what I mean.

In years (months) gone by it was the job of managers to tell employees what to do, how to do it and when to stop doing it. I know that is really a great oversimplification but essentially managers were held accountable for how the jobs were done. The change we are experiencing now is that  managers are responsible for what is done and the employees are accountable for how it is done.

Let me give you an example to make my point clearer. Your team has been given a new sales target to accomplish. Your team is responsible for  increasing the sales of your widgets by 15%. In the past the sales manager would tell his or her employees the targets and then tell them how to go about doing this. For some this approach was very helpful and for others it was demeaning or insulting. More managers are now using a coach approach to manage performance on a more regular basis which will reduce issues from building over time, while creating a learning environment for both managers and employees.

How this coach approach works is, the manager meets with his staff to tell them about the sales target changes. He then facilitates  a meeting where the team is encouraged and expected to create some new ideas to meet these goals. The managers role is to keep the creative process going and to encourage innovative thinking. The employees are being given a chance to influence their future by looking at how these targets can  be met using tools and techniques they currently have or will need to learn. This  approach recognizes the competency of the employees while asking them to step up their game by participating in the process. Employees are more likely to try new ideas if they have been generated from the team who actually is expected to implement .  The manager/coach’s role is to maintain a creative and open environment where feedback can be used and worked with to meet the challenges.

Okay, now back to our first scenario where you have an employee who you have given a solution to and they agreed it was the right thing to do but at the next opportunity they didn’t follow through. Given our discussion above what would you do differently?  (This is my favourite coaching question) Let me give you some questions you can ask repeat offenders of discussions that go nowhere fast.

There are 3 rules when you are coaching difficult employees.

1.  Don’t be uncomfortable with silence. When you ask them a question, wait for the answer. If they say they don’t know, tell them to think some more and you wait. Silence is Golden.

2.  Keep asking them questions until they engage in the process. (this will take a bit of time for them to get used to this process as they have always been under the impression their Silence was Golden.

3. The conversation is held privately.

Question-and-Answers-55878317I am going to give you a sample of questions for you to try when you are having a conversation with someone who has been making repeated mistakes and you have coached, counselled and told them what to do. Ideally this will be the first thing you do when someone needs some support. The example I will use to make this as concrete as possible is a sales target missed after 2 months.

“So Bob I need to talk to you about your sales for the past few months. We spoke last month about some ideas I had for you to meet your numbers but I see that didn’t work for you as your numbers continue to be about the same as last month, which unfortunately is below target.”

“So let’s take this time to  brainstorm some ideas to get your numbers up, assuming we are in agreement you are interested in improving your numbers. We do have a brief window of opportunity to make this change but I would like to get a clear idea about what is working and what is not working for you. I am going to ask you some questions to help me understand your process and maybe through this discussion you will be able to see some opportunities.”

“Okay, take your time while answering the questions.”

1.  What is working well right now. When you are making sales to customer X and Y what technique are you using?

2.  Tell me about the clients you have not been able to close. Walk me through that process from beginning to end.

3. What do you think the roadblocks are?

4.  What have you done to assess this issue?

5. What have you done differently to adjust to the sales target increase?

6.  What will it take for you to increase your sales?

7.  What do you need from me?

These are just some generic questions that will help to understand the issue. Is  the issue a skills, technical or attitudinal issue. As these questions get answered you can assess what next steps need to happen. Prior to having this conversation you are making a number of assumptions  on where the issue is without having a full understanding..  This is a big opportunity for all managers to reduce the personal and professional stress of mind reading  and always coming up with the magic solution.

Take the time to learn how to coach and it will save you your sanity. I promise…….


Guest Blogger: Judy Mackenzie, MBA, CHRP, CEC PCC, owns and operates TEVO Consulting Inc. for small and medium sized businesses and The Champion’s Mindset, focused on personal development. She is also the author of “Women Rock the Business World – A Planning Guide for Women Entrepreneurs“.

TEVO’s mission is to assist companies in reaching their strategic goals by developing leadership and people management systems that allow employees to be at their best. Judy believes engaged employees are fundamental to business success, and she designs support and management systems to help people and companies achieve their full potential.

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