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Practical advice on realignment conversations and behaviour change during challenging times

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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.

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. 

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