The typical hands-off manager basically avoids performance problems until they can no longer be ignored. But problems always come up. And by the time a problem can no longer be avoided, the dreaded confrontation is inevitable.

Without regular daily or weekly management conversations with a strong focus, the manager has no natural venue in which to provide the employee with regular evaluation and feedback - good, bad, or neutral. Instead of regular and consistent “problem solving,” which is a good thing, dealing with problems becomes a difficult conversation to be avoided.

By the time most “performance improvement” conversations actually take place, it's usually too late for the manager to be very effective. For one thing, solving a problem after it has already festered and grown large is so much more difficult than preventing that problem in the first place, or solving it while it was smaller. On top of all that, employees often feel attacked when they are confronted with a negative assessment of their behavior.

Do you want to be great at solving employee performance problems? If you are talking with employees about the details of their work on a regular basis, then talking about small problems - whatever they may be - should be something you do as a matter of course. Anticipate and avoid and solve one small problem after another as a regular part of your regular ongoing dialogue with each employee.

In the course of regular guidance and direction, zeroing in on one small problem after another is what ongoing continuous performance improvement actually looks like. In most cases, even long-standing problems will die away under the withering medicine of regular and consistent strong management.

This approach sends a message that high performance is the only option, that details matter, and that you are paying close attention. You are also doing the employee a favor by making him or her aware of the small problem so that he or she can fix it or avoid it in the future. Over time, you are doing your employees the added favor of helping them become more detail oriented.

Publication date:11/05/2007