Effective leaders use Emotional Intelligence when managing performance

One of the most important but underrated skills leaders and managers need to work performance well is emotional intelligence.  If you are predominately a thinking leader, you may be sceptical about emotional intelligence, but please bear with me.

Three categories of performance management

If you are like most organisations, the hierarchy of performance management falls into three broad categories:

People who:

a)      Underperform

b)      Perform averagely/competently

c)      Perform over and above requirements

Several organisations give more focus to under-performance and over-performance.  Why?  Because unchecked under-performance permeates the rest of the organisation and multiplies as it impacts every team member.  Over-performance cries out to be recognised.  Often, organisations depend on and excel because of star performers; With a mixture of gratitude and desire to keep performance at that level, reward systems are introduced.

Competent performers

The Employment Practices report by Xperthr shows for nearly 70% of people surveyed, an action for poor performance was taken for less than 5% of employees.   Although I don’t particularly subscribe to bell curve comparisons, some latest models advocate average rates of over-performance equate to some 16% of the total workforce.  If you add both together, then you are talking about 21% of your employees.   If you do the maths, there is a possibility that up to 79% of your employees are average or competent performers.

So yes, the figures are pretty subjective. Still, my guess is unless you are a top performer in your industry, it’s likely that the majority of your people fall under the “average or competent performance” criteria.

As a performance manager, you have distinct functions for each category of a performer.  And you need to performance manage all of your people, not just extreme performers.   You will be more effective in achieving results if you use emotional intelligence techniques to enhance your management of each category.

Under-performance and emotional intelligence

You aim to either get your employee to perform to standard or to leave the organisation.  Whilst being very clear about your expectations in performing to standard; to avoid conflict and be effective, you need to be able to display at least two emotional skills:

Detachment from the outcome

To give your employee the best chance, you need to distance yourself from pre-empting the result.  If you do this, your employee will be able to self-select whether they can raise their game or voluntarily leave as they know they are in the wrong job.

Put aside your feelings.

Quite often, poor performers cause you headaches, and it’s common to assume an attitude about them.  Or conversely, you worry about the consequences for them, and this inhibits being assertive.  It is understandable because under-performers increase stress levels and utilise effort which could be directed elsewhere.  The majority of people who underperform are just as horrified about the situation as you.  By putting aside your feelings and being impersonal and practical, you are in a position to listen and make sound win/win decisions.

Average performance and emotional intelligence

Managing is a stressful business, and you have many tasks and issues to deal with; many decisions to make, planning to be done; well, you don’t need me to tell you how busy it is.  The problem is, the majority of your people who won’t cause you problems and get the work done are working in their comfort zone, and it’s hard to find the time to raise the bar for them.  Your main task for this category is to use their talent, time and goodwill to drive performance.   You can do this in several ways, but setting stretching objectives designed to drive up pockets of performance across the board is the key.  The EI skills needed to do this are:

Put aside your limiting beliefs about your employees

The biggest mistake is holding the idea that people have reached a limit of capability and capacity.  Often leaders make assumptions that people can’t or won’t do better.   But more often than not, if you genuinely believe in someone and give them the right encouragement and support, they will rise to the challenge.

Be patient about results

We are creatures of habits.  When you raise expectations of your people, then it will take them a little while to change the way they have always done things.  Suppose you are patient and encouraging and restate your belief in their ability to do better. In that case, they will eventually get there, and your business will benefit from all of that renewed effort.

Over-performance and emotional intelligence

I don’t know about you, but I have often nearly been on my knees with gratitude when self-starters have driven through tricky situations or taken the initiative and made my life easier, gotten great results and done a great job.  Given a choice, wouldn’t we all like to have these people in our midst?  But while you need to hold the vibe of gratitude, you need to remember your function for these people, and in this situation, it is two-fold.  You need to reward outstanding performance and help these great performers get where they need to be. Hopefully, that will be in a career in your company, but if it isn’t, you still need to help them.  To achieve this effectively, there are two attitudes you must hold, and it takes some emotional maturity to complete:

Letting go 

Your star performers will more than likely move on.  One of the most emotionally intelligent stances you can achieve is recognising when someone you manage will likely progress their career further than yours.  Even trickier is realising that your star performer will move on to another business.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of limiting the help you give. Or specify the development you make available to star performers because they may leave taking all your investment with them.  However, they will appreciate and give you accolades for the helping hand they received, and your reputation as an employer of choice will grow.

Understand each has their path and guidance to follow

I remember losing a star performer and thinking they were making a big mistake.  Initially, I thought they were leaving for the wrong reasons.  I want to say I used my emotional intelligence and gave them my blessing to go, but I didn’t. I told them I thought they were making a mistake.  Not much emotional intelligence there!  Did they change their mind? No.  They left and although a rocky road.  They went on to even bigger and better things. Then leveraged change, they might not have been able to have stayed working for my company.  Respecting others’ own choices is key to excellent performance management. In the long run, your company will benefit because your employees will know you have their best interests at heart.

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