Sometimes it’s easy to assess and give feedback on an employee’s performance: a person is clearly doing well, or is clearly struggling. But what if you’re managing someone who’s great at their work some of the time but strikingly weak at other times? Or someone who’s easy to work with some days but irritable and recalcitrant on others?
There are three keys to managing an employee who seems like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (hey, it’s Halloween week):
1. Name the issue. Often when faced with a Jeckyll-Hyde employee, managers get paralyzed by inaction. They’ll resolve to give feedback on a problem (Hyde) when suddenly Jeckyll takes back over and the employee’s work or behavior improves … leaving the manager feeling like it’s the wrong time to bring it up. Don’t fall into that trap. Instead, name the issue for what it is: inconsistency. For example, you might say something like, “At times, you’re an incredibly helpful presence in strategy meetings – thoughtful, encouraging of other’s ideas, and great at spotting problems and helping to refine plans. Yesterday’s meeting was a great example of this. But at other times, you seem irritable and annoyed to be there. Last week, you shot down every idea that came up and tore into Jane’s presentation pretty hard. I need you to consistently operate the way you did yesterday – not some of the time, but all of the time.”
2. Ask questions. Don’t assume that you know what’s going on with the employee. Instead, ask and hear the person out with an open mind. For example, you might ask, “What’s your sense of what’s going on?” or “Are there things I’m missing?” This step is important not only because feedback is more effective when it’s a dialogue, but also because you might learn something that surprises you, like that the person’s Hyde side is coming out in response to, say, an over-the-top workload or a particularly difficult client.
3. State your expectations going forward. This part is key – you need to clearly articulate what you need to see from the person from now on, so that there’s no ambiguity about your expectations. For example, if you’re talking to a staff member whose work is characterized by dramatic highs and lows, you might say: “At times, your work has been incredibly impressive, like the summer campaign you ran that was such a success. But other times, you leave work to the last minute and let important details go, like with the fall ads. To succeed in this role, I need you to hit that higher level of performance consistently."
From there, hold the employee to that expectation just like any other performance expectation. And it should be easier to do that now that you’ve set up the framework of consistency, which gives you a clear, direct way to talk about what you’re observing (and one that doesn’t require you to catch Hyde in person).
Sometimes employee inconsistency, both from a work and attitude perspective, can be caused by annoying manual processes in the workplace. Download the Process Improvement Playbook: Overcoming the Hurdles of Manual Processes in the Workplace. And see more Jekyll and less Hyde.
Image courtesy of goldstar.com