Improving Employee Performance - 14 September 2010
A hot issue at the moment is climate change, with people falling into one of two camps: the supporters and the skeptics. If you’ve ever tried changing the opinion of someone on the opposing side – like I have – chances are you’ve been unsuccessful.
If you believe humans cause climate change, you’ve probably used data such as rising sea levels, melting ice caps and their link with carbon pollution to prove your point. If you deny the human influence, you’ve probably used the email scandal and warmer prehistoric temperatures to convince people otherwise. The reason both approaches don’t work is this: facts alone don't have the power to change people’s mind
Researchers at the University of Michigan proved this in their studies. They discovered that when people are politically partisan, providing them with facts to disprove their position only makes them more stubborn with their beliefs. They feel threatened to admit they’re wrong, and so they end up interpreting information in a way that reinforces their opinion.
Employees are no different. If you just provide them with facts about their performance, it won’t easily result in an improvement. This is because, as the researchers found out, opinions are often based on beliefs, which means that rather than forming an opinion after the facts have been gathered, many people do the opposite: they first form an opinion and then gather facts to support it. Giving them even more data makes them less likely to listen.
According to the researchers, one approach that breaks this obstinacy is self-esteem. They conducted one experiment in particular where people were required to complete a self-affirmation activity. Upon its completion, the self-affirmed people were more likely to consider taking on board new information than those who hadn’t been through the self-affirmation. The researchers concluded that when people feel good about themselves, they’re more inclined to listen. When they feel insecure and pressured, they put up barriers.
So, the trick for you as a manager in improving employee performance is to provide the relevant facts about underperformance via the avenue of self-esteem. Here’s how:
- During coaching sessions, ask questions so that it’s employees telling you the areas in which they need to improve rather than you declaring what’s not working.
- Empathise and share stories of times when your own work performance was below standard. Talk openly about how you overcame those challenges.
- Don ’t have performance conversations only when something’s wrong. Provide recognition as often as you solicit areas for development.
- People perform at their best when they’re maximising their strengths as opposed to limiting their weaknesses. Identify and nurture every employee’s talents.
Just like the climate change debate, showering employees with more and more facts at a time when they’re having self-esteem issues will just make them think you’re full of hot air.
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