Poor performance: prevention is better than cure

If your employees underperform there may be a good reason. Jon Pratlett, creator of the seminar ‘Leading with the brain in mind’, suggests some simple ways to understand employee behaviour, become a ‘brain friendly’ leader and nip poor performance in the bud.

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 What if, despite persistent efforts, your employees are underperforming? If you look to replace them, there’ll be costs involved – not to mention disruption to the business. Furthermore, there’s no guarantee their replacements will perform any better. So what are your choices?

According to Jon Pratlett, a Neuroleadership expert, the best long-term choice is prevention. “Ideally, preventing underperformance should start before you advertise a job,” he says. “That’s when you need to think carefully about what you expect from a new employee and spell it out in a detailed job description. You also need to spell out how performance will be measured.”

Regular feedback will prevent small problems from developing into big ones and can help people feel more confident and secure. “When you’re not sure whether you’re doing the right thing you’re likely to feel anxious and threatened,” Pratlett continues. “As leaders, we need to create clear boundaries and give clear instructions, and that means taking responsibility for the quality of our own communications and relationships.”

Being brain friendly

Everything we think, feel and do starts with the brain. From an evolutionary point of view, the brain works on one key motivating principle – to minimise danger and maximise reward – and, if your management style takes this into account, you have a much better chance of keeping your employees engaged and motivated.

“Leaders who appreciate the kinds of behaviours that provoke a reward or threat response, and act accordingly, are more likely to lead a productive team,” says Pratlett.

Research suggests there are five social needs that, if addressed, can help – the acronym CARER makes them easy to remember.

Certainty – providing clarity and transparency to leave little doubt

Autonomy – providing choices where appropriate

Relatedness, or getting on with people around you

Equity – treating people fairly

Reputation – maintaining/elevating status

“They all interact so, for example, a micromanaging boss will undermine an employee’s autonomy, reputation and equity, and create a multiplying effect,” says Pratlett. “This type of behaviour may lead the employee to feel uncertain about their tenure in their role. Conversely, when you’re a CARER, you’re continually building trust by meeting many of these drives. This can help to offset any issues that arise.”

Round pegs in round holes

People are far more likely to perform well when they’re operating within their behavioural comfort zone. “If you have a people person sitting in front of a computer all day with no human interaction they may end up frustrated, miserable and ineffective,” says Pratlett. “And someone who is naturally reserved and task-orientated isn’t necessarily going to be good at sales.”

The DISC (Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness) behavioural styles assessment, which can be done online or face to face, is a quick and simple way of gaining insight into someone’s likely behaviour in a particular context. This could provide an indication of where an employee is likely to work most effectively.

“If you complete the assessment yourself it could also help you to understand your own behaviour and that of others around you, alerting you to people you may clash with,” Pratlett continues. “Awareness of the different behavioural styles, coupled with practice, can help you to become more flexible and to modify your own style to better match theirs. You’d be surprised how effective this can be.”

The end of the road

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, an issue can’t be resolved. “If someone has a deeply-entrenched belief that all bosses are the enemy you could face an upward battle to change their mindset,” says Pratlett. “Other people may simply be not a good fit. In this case, if you’ve been following the CARER principles, giving and seeking regular feedback and discussing problems as they arise, there’s a good chance the employee will realise the role is not for them, thank you for the opportunity, and leave on good terms.”

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