Addressing under-performance in your virtual team

underperformance

In order to create behaviour change and support the individual in re-establishing high performance, you’ll need to create a practical, straightforward plan. This doesn’t need to be a big multi-month strategy, in fact, it’d be much more useful for you both to agree to some key outcomes to achieve within a 2-week time frame. Take it a step further and ask a question like “How can I help you take your next best step?’, writes Darren Hill, Co-Founder of Pragmatic Thinking.

It can be trickier to spot, but when you start to see the signs of under-performance showing up in your virtual team, you’ve got to address it. The longer you put off a performance conversation, the more challenging it is going to be for you and the individual to turn things around. So, in saying that, let’s explore the steps you should take to address under-performance in a virtual environment.

Using behaviour-based language is far more useful than general traits. By speaking to specific behaviours you’d like to see more or less of, you’re giving your team member the best chance of being able to deliver on your requests.

Step 1: Get clarity on the situation
Before jumping straight to teeing up a time for a 1:1 conversation and sending through a meeting invite, get clear on the situation at hand. Are there specific tasks that are being missed or completed incorrectly that warrant the conversation, or is your perception being swayed by cognitive biases?

Human beings have a vast array of cognitive biases that can affect our perception significantly, and unless we have clear objective measures around performance that indicate underperformance, we can be led astray by our biases.

To ensure you’re being truly objective about the situation, take some time to pull together relevant information that indicates that work is not being completed or that standards are not being met. Take note of any similarities you notice, there may even be a pattern emerging that can help guide the conversation.

Step 2: Make the conversation as visual as possible
Approaching a tough conversation with a team member face to face can be daunting enough, but when you throw in video conferencing and wifi connections, it can be even more challenging to communicate your message.

In order to effectively depersonalise the tough feedback you’re going to give, you’ll need to get the conversation visual. It’s useful to share your screen so that your points of discussion are clear, and nothing is left to be misinterpreted. You might approach this by setting up a collaborative Google Document for you both to work through during the meeting. Alternatively, if your conversation is about a particular piece of work that isn’t up to standard, you could have two versions to discuss and compare.

Step 3: If you need to discuss behaviour, avoid using traits
Another important element to consider when approaching an underperformance conversation with someone in your virtual team is the language you use to describe the situation.

Using behaviour-based language is far more useful than general traits. By speaking to specific behaviours you’d like to see more or less of, you’re giving your team member the best chance of being able to deliver on your requests.

For example, punctuality is a vague trait that has many different meanings to different people, especially in a virtual work context. Asking your team member to join your video conference call 3 minutes before start as a best practice is a much clearer request.

Step 4: Get practical and co-create a plan
It’s simply not enough to have a conversation about underperformance and leave it at that, even in a face-to-face context. But, you knew that one already. In order to create behaviour change and support the individual in re-establishing high performance, you’ll need to create a practical, straightforward plan.

This doesn’t need to be a big multi-month strategy, in fact, it’d be much more useful for you both to agree to some key outcomes to achieve within a 2-week timeframe. Take it a step further and ask a question like “How can I help you take your next best step?” – there may be something they’re struggling with that they haven’t yet shared. You never know what could be hindering someone’s performance until you ask.

After the conversation ends, send through a summary of what you’ve discussed and the key outcomes you’ve agreed upon as well as a calendar invite for your next check-in.

Human beings have a vast array of cognitive biases that can affect our perception significantly, and unless we have clear objective measures around performance that indicate underperformance, we can be led astray by our biases.

It’s completely possible to have meaningful and impactful performance conversations, even in a virtual working environment. Sure, you might need to make use of a few additional communication tools like screen-sharing documents to get your point across and ensure clarity, but the results are worth the additional effort.

With this approach to addressing underperformance in your virtual team you’ll be well placed to create long-lasting change and potentially take an individual from underperforming to reaching a state of high performance.

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