The appraisals are out, and there is a mixed vibe in the air- those who have fared well may be over the moon, while those who did not, may be biting the dust. Such contrasting moods may affect the entire organization, by impacting the morale of every employee. From a managerial and HR standpoint, it is important to take stock of the wins and problems at hand and address them head-on for a better future. This requires a highly sensitive people-centric approach, using powerful tools such as performance coaching and performance counseling.
The counseling model for the post-appraisal season
Any counseling initiative goes beyond merely “telling” a person to do something or not to do something. It involves understanding the human psyche, i.e. a person’s thinking, motivators, values, and other intrinsic traits, and guiding the person to perform up to standards at work, by addressing performance issues. Counseling is different from coaching, in a way that deals more with behaviors, thoughts, and mindsets, rather than coaching which directly impacts knowledge, skills, and abilities. counseling can be of different types:
- Performance counseling: Focuses totally on performance lapses and ways to overcome.
- Problem counseling: Focuses on other concerns such as personal or professional conduct, behaviour etc. and may or may not have a direct impact on the person’s performance.
- Individual growth counseling: Focuses on employee development and career advancement.
However, these three counseling categories may not be distinct, and elements of one may bleed into the other. Hence, to become effective counselors, leaders must develop a host of qualities such as empathy, self-awareness, and respect for people. Only then can a leader be an effective counselor, and help his or her people be their best selves. But mere qualities are not enough, it is important to follow a methodical process for counseling.
How to build a performance counseling process
While leaders and managers are anyways expected to counsel their employees at an informal level, it is important to have a formal post-appraisal counseling session in place. Not only does it help address employee grievances head-on, but also sets the tone for future high performance, at both an individual and organizational level.
- Create a conducive environment: The first step is to build a climate of trust and confidence, so that an open discussion can ensue. Both the process owner (HR and business) and the counselor should communicate with the employee at the outset, clarifying that the counseling session is a two-way dialogue. The employee must be made comfortable to share his or her fears, concerns, feelings, etc. Bringing in a credible leader who is not judgemental is a good idea to make this happen.
- Prepare for the session: The counselor must not only know about the professional performance of the employee, but also his or her background, education, training, experience etc. This knowledge shall help facilitate a holistic discussion that touches upon all aspects of performance counseling i.e. performance, development, growth etc. The session must be timed close to the performance appraisal discussion, only then will it stay recent and relevant.
- Problem identification through exploration: The intent of counseling is to elicit intrinsic realization rather than simply “tell” the person to improve. The counselor should study the feedback from the performance discussion, and should facilitate self-exploration in the employee through the right probing questions. This will help the employee understand his or her own self better- strengths, weaknesses, behaviours, etc. It is important to focus talks on the person’s behaviour, rather than the person at hand. The leader must not make the employee defensive by “blaming” him or her, rather should direct questions in a compassionate, empathetic manner to help the employee diagnose the problem at hand.
- Action planning: Create concrete take-aways by outlining specific plans of actions for the employee’s development. The conversation should be structured to encourage the employee to take ownership for self-development. Encourage him or her to come up with and share concrete plans. It is important to hear out the person’s ideas and plans, and then provide suggestions to help give them real shape.
- Follow up: It is important to follow up the action plan at a pace which is comfortable to both counselor and counselee. Following through on the action plans helps raise the performance bar, and create an ongoing commitment to excellence and high performance.
What distinguishes an average counseling session from a great one is the sense of accountability, ownership, and self-belief that a counselor can generate in the employee. Effective counseling requires a sprinkling of care and compassion, with proper communication of the high-performance expectations. It is up to the counselor and counselee to mutually decide when to stop, and how far to continue the association such that it helps the optimum realization of the outlined goals.