First aid for performance

Apply First-Aid to your performance issues in 3 easy steps

Chances are that regular readers and clients will have heard me quip at least once that ‘if I could earn a dollar just for kick starting a discussion about performance with employees I’d be a very wealthy man‘!

This is perhaps a slight exaggeration but it has its basis in the fact that I’m regularly involved in discussions about an employee ‘just not performing’ or ‘not being part of the team’. For the record, if you own or manage a business and employ humans it will be a fact-of-life for any business to have this come up every so often (hopefully not that often).

Now I won’t go into the detail in this article about what a leader should do to create smart performance measures, provide regular feedback and establish what they are doing to support or hinder performance and will instead address a First-Aid response that can get you out of some initial trouble.

But first… why do we avoid this?

You may wonder why so many leaders and business owners run a mile (or seek to make a person ‘redundant’ worst case) rather than have a difficult conversation about an issue that is directly and sometimes significantly impacting the business?

My experiences and reading over the years would suggest the reasons include:

  • society conditions us to not be confrontational with others
  • employers worry about the ramifications of saying the wrong thing
  • managers are busy and don’t plan the time to address and follow through properly
  • managers feel they don’t have the skills or training to do this
  • insert any number of other reasons here!

If any of this is starting to sound familiar, then take some small comfort at not being alone in this issue. However, not addressing the issue will lead to possible worse discomfort such as:

  • loss of clients
  • other employees judging you and the business (and seeing the poor performance as acceptable)
  • lower morale
  • higher turnover
  • harder to initiate future and fair discipline and termination steps if needed

So why call it First-Aid?

Our good friend Google tells us that First-Aid is ‘help given to a sick or injured person until full medical treatment is available‘.  And we also know that First aid is not the same as dedicated and ongoing medical treatment for a condition.

In short, a First-Aid analogy helps businesses understand what they can do until ‘full treatment’ is available.

“Poor performance, like an ongoing medical condition, is never a sudden and unexpected issue. If a business is honest, they will have recognised the warning signs well before the need for a conversation”.

But finding the courage to apply some First-Aid is another matter – especially for the many SME businesses out there that have not established a formal approach to how they will manage an under performer (the ongoing treatment).

It is in this space particularly that a First-Aid approach to a performance issue can be of benefit.

3 steps to better First-Aid

  1. Recognise your state of mind and wait until you are calm. Be ‘present’ in the moment (as a gestalt psychotherapist would say) – recognising that being angry or upset and having the conversation is a bona fida recipe for a disastrous conversation. A word of caution though – feedback is best served ‘hot’ (e.g. at the time) so waiting days until you calm down is not ideal.
  2. Plan what you will say. Identify the issue you want to address (keep it to a critical one or two points), own the feedback (don’t use other’s observations) and decide the words  you will actually say to start the conversation (see the next point).
  3. Acknowledge the problem (and your awkwardness at having to mention it if necessary) right at the start. Of all the things I coach clients on, this one step offers the greatest value to an untrained manager. If it’s done genuinely, it will set the tone for the entire conversation to follow…. and gives you an opening to have the conversation.

I expect by the time you have started on point 3 in your next First-Aid conversation, you will feel a weight lift and, if you are genuine in how you raise this matter, the conversation will end with you and the employee finding some type of ‘consensus’ on the issue.

So there you have it, easy as 1,2,3.

PS: now make a record of the conversation and turn your mind to how you will tackle ‘ongoing treatment’ for the performance!


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