Zack Wahlquist, CAE
Zack Wahlquist, CAE, is the executive vice president of the Chicago Association of Realtors.
When employees are not performing to expectations, it can be easy to move into a reprimanding, scolding mode. However, an approach that focuses on relationship building and finding the right fit for employees may bring out the best in your staff.
I was nearly fired from my first association management job. While I loved what I did and did it well, I got bored quickly and craved new experiences. As boredom set in, I missed deadlines and procrastinated on simple tasks. My coworkers noticed these changes and became frustrated.
A tipping point came, and my performance forced our CEO’s hand. How she handled things changed my views on what it means to be a good manager. Instead of calling me into her office with a litany of my faults and failings, scolding me, and then placing me on a performance improvement plan, she asked if we could go get ice cream. At the parlor, we talked about my hopes and dreams, what I wanted from my future, whether I saw myself in the association space, and when I was most happy at work.
I told her that I loved my work, was happy in our environment, enjoyed working with her, and loved our relationship. I confessed that I was getting bored, and the lack of new challenges was contributing to my poor performance. I acknowledged that I had become disappointed in myself, but couldn’t decide what to do about it.
Without reprimand, she gently pointed out some of what she was noticing. Then she expressed confidence in the high quality of my work, the gifts she saw in me, and that I could do better. We both took the feedback to heart, and within two weeks, I had addressed the immediate things, thanked her for her trust and confidence, and started repairing the damage I’d done with my coworkers. Within that same time, the CEO created a new, higher-level position in the organization tailored to my skills and interests that included a project the association had never done before. From that moment on, I would have done anything for my CEO and continued to work with her and learn from her for eight more years.
When performance issues arise, look at the work to be something that changes, and not just the employee or their behavior.
I know I was very lucky in that situation. Not everyone has a manager who will collaborate on solutions. Because of this privilege, I have an obligation to pay it forward to folks I supervise and the managers I coach. Everything I know about performance management began to crystalize in that moment. Here are four keys to getting the best from the employees you supervise:
We need tools, policies, and procedures in place to help us consistently manage every team member, but we need to leverage those tools in ways that allow a lot of room for individuality. Building these relationships and investing in these transactions is different for all of us and for each person we supervise. It is on us to know when we need to be direct or if our staff just needs us to collaborate on their performance over a 2021-style virtual scoop of ice cream.