Clear Review has joined Advanced - Discover our full suite of powerful and innovative people management solutions

Find out more
Back to blog

Practical advice on realignment conversations and behaviour change during challenging times

Realignment ian blog header

Despite the cur­rent cir­cum­stances, we are all adapt­ing to a new way of work­ing — a way of work­ing that will stick around for a while. As we all get used to work­ing from home and get­ting that per­fect work-life bal­ance, it’s impor­tant that we still con­tin­ue to have the con­ver­sa­tions that we would have if we were in a phys­i­cal office. Realign­ment con­ver­sa­tions (also known as under­per­for­mance or poor per­for­mance con­ver­sa­tions) should still be hap­pen­ing. Orga­ni­za­tions need to recog­nise behav­iour changes that will hap­pen over this peri­od from a psy­cho­log­i­cal per­spec­tive and how that can impact employ­ee performance. 

Realign­ment conversations

When some­one has been con­sis­tent­ly under­per­form­ing over many weeks or months, a realign­ment con­ver­sa­tion is often nec­es­sary to get them back on track. Although many man­agers will be wary about hav­ing poten­tial­ly dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tion dur­ing a dif­fi­cult time, reg­u­lar per­for­mance con­ver­sa­tions are still essen­tial. This is because under­per­for­mance can also be impact­ed by changes in behav­iour dur­ing this period.

Behav­iour change timeframes

As we enter the third month of lock­down at vary­ing lev­els of inten­si­ty in the UK, it may be help­ful to look at behav­iour change from a psy­cho­log­i­cal perspective.

Whether it’s a good habit like exer­cise, or a bad habit like smok­ing, tem­po­rary behav­iour change becomes per­ma­nent rel­a­tive­ly quick­ly. Gen­er­al­ly, it takes about three weeks for a tem­po­rary behav­iour change to become a habit. If that habit per­sists for two to three months it becomes a per­ma­nent, entrenched behav­iour that is far more dif­fi­cult to change.

We can’t pre­dict the future, and dis­cus­sions about what the new nor­mal” will be in months or years can be fair­ly vague and aren’t always use­ful for per­for­mance man­age­ment today. When we’re man­ag­ing per­for­mance, look to behav­iour over the past few weeks and months. If a per­for­mance issue has been hap­pen­ing for a few days it may be a blip; if the prob­lem is per­sist­ing for weeks then it is start­ing to become a pat­tern. Two to three months of the same behav­iour mean that it is like­ly to con­tin­ue unless the cir­cum­stances or envi­ron­ment rapid­ly and fun­da­men­tal­ly change again.

If there are per­for­mance issues that have been ongo­ing for months, those are unlike­ly to change sub­stan­tial­ly with­out intervention.

The good news is, behav­iour can still change, but leave bad behav­iour or under­per­for­mance uncor­rect­ed for more than a few months, and it will be far more dif­fi­cult to change later.

    The 5 most important performance conversations

    Learn everything you need to know about having good performance conversations from our collection of free resources!

    Learn more

    Four Stages of Behav­iour Change

    1) Iden­ti­fy the problem

      The first step of chang­ing behav­iour is to iden­ti­fy the prob­lem. This should be direct­ly linked to per­for­mance met­rics, tar­gets, or deliv­er­ables. The more clear­ly some­one under­stands how they are being eval­u­at­ed, the more straight­for­ward it is for them to meet their objectives.

      In con­ver­sa­tion, give the employ­ee the time and con­sid­er­a­tion to explain the prob­lem in their own words. This serves two pur­pos­es. First, it shows how much insight they have into the sit­u­a­tion; and sec­ond it lets them frame the issue and poten­tial solu­tions from their perspective.

      2) Explore the causes

        Once the required per­for­mance lev­els have been defined and the gaps have been iden­ti­fied, then dis­cuss the prob­a­ble caus­es of the prob­lem. For man­agers who wor­ry about per­for­mance dis­cus­sions dur­ing dif­fi­cult times, here is a good oppor­tu­ni­ty to under­stand the person’s situation.

        In some cas­es, per­for­mance might be suf­fer­ing when an employ­ee has insuf­fi­cient equip­ment, tech­nol­o­gy or resources to get the job done. If an employee’s home is not equipped with the nec­es­sary devices, soft­ware, com­mu­ni­ca­tion tools and fast, reli­able inter­net con­nec­tion that would direct­ly impact their per­for­mance. In these cas­es, some invest­ment might be need­ed from the company.

        In oth­er cir­cum­stances the employ­ee will need to change their own behav­iour to improve their per­for­mance. Plan­ning and goal-set­ting are essen­tial next steps (and will be dis­cussed in greater detail in the next section).

        There are some cas­es where there are tem­porar­i­ly bar­ri­ers to an employee’s per­for­mance that can­not imme­di­ate­ly change. A typ­i­cal, recent exam­ple is when par­ents are tem­porar­i­ly required to home­school their kids while also work­ing from home. If that per­son has less time avail­able for work and com­pet­ing demands for their atten­tion from young chil­dren at home that’s a clear iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of a chal­lenge with­out an imme­di­ate solution.

        In that case the dis­cus­sion may cen­tre around about what is a rea­son­able lev­el of work that can be com­plet­ed until the con­di­tions are dif­fer­ent, along with a clear longer-term plan for per­for­mance. Once the sit­u­a­tion changes, and kids can safe­ly return to schools, then a dif­fer­ent lev­el of per­for­mance will be expected.

        3) Dis­cuss the required changes

        If the man­ag­er and employ­ee agrees that behav­iour change is need­ed and have iden­ti­fied some of the caus­es of prob­lems, the next step should be set­ting per­for­mance goals.

        The five As are an excel­lent frame­work. Goals should be:

        • Agile: reviewed and changed to ensure they are rel­e­vant to fit the context
        • Account­able: shared with col­lab­o­ra­tors whether that’s team mem­bers or oth­er teams
        • Aligned: whether it’s top-down, bot­tom-up and sideways
        • Assess­able: can be assessed but with no for­mu­la­ic link­age to compensation
        • Aspi­ra­tional: a goal which is stretch­ing but not so impos­si­ble to achieve that one gives up

        It’s best to put these goals in writ­ing so both the man­ag­er and employ­ee under­stands and remem­bers the goals.

        4) Con­sol­i­date improvements

          What hap­pens with a realign­ment con­ver­sa­tion leads to improved per­for­mance? Often, the behav­iour change process stops there. Job done, move onto the next cri­sis. Too often, the last stage of behav­iour change is over­looked. Many man­agers for­get that con­sol­i­dat­ing behav­iour change is essen­tial for main­tain­ing that behav­iour over the long term.

          If there is a change in behav­iour (a mea­sur­able improve­ment in per­for­mance) this should be a cause for cel­e­bra­tion. What could have been a series of dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tions lead­ing to an even more dif­fi­cult reten­tion deci­sion has just become a suc­cess sto­ry. Two (or more peo­ple) have just worked togeth­er to improve per­for­mance. That’s a poten­tial­ly vir­tu­ous cycle, an upward tra­jec­to­ry that should not be abandoned.

          Learn more about realign­ment conversations:

          Want to learn more about how to have a good realign­ment con­ver­sa­tion? Watch our webi­nar where our pan­el of experts dive deep­er into this subject.

          Realignment webinar CTA