performanceJoe had always been a strong performer, but in his new role he really seemed to be slacking off. His boss, Hannah has tried to coach him, but he’s not improving. It’s not helping that he gets so defensive. She’s starting to think she made the wrong selection. It’s disappointing because he had come so well recommended.

Joe’s feeling completely overwhelmed, but he’s afraid to tell Hannah. He has a reputation for being a quick study, but for some reason he was just not getting this new role. His embarrassment shows up as aggression, and the downward spiral continues.

The problem is that when Joe and Hannah talk, they’re working on the wrong issue. She reprimands the disengagement and the aggression. If she dug deeper, she would learn he needs more training to do the role well. Joe’s scared to tell Hannah the truth, particularly now that she’s started to “document” the issues. He’s already started looking around for a job in another department which just proves he’s disengaged.

“Will or skill” is an insufficient question when addressing performance issues. This model works okay if the manager can Identify the problem as a simple “skill” issue. Just train, coach, or assign a buddy. But the “will issue” answer often begins a slide down a slippery slope of assumptive questions:

  • Why doesn’t he care?
  • How can I motivate him to do more?
  • I wonder how long I have to document all this before I can fire him?

Once you label someone as disengaged, it’s difficult to see him or her any differently. The truth is the percentage of employees who “just don’t care” is actually very low in most organizations. I find that what looks like disengagement often stems from the confidence/competence cocktail.

The Confidence Competence Model

The next time you’re dealing with a performance management problem, try starting with the lens of confidence and competence.

High-Competence/High-Confidence: Challenge Me

This could be an employee in the perfect sweet spot of positive energy and flow, or may be becoming a bit bored and longing for more. At best, they’re your A players, although the high confidence/competence combo can sometimes manifest itself in feelings of superiority, particularly if the rest of the team is weak.

High-Competence/Low-Confidence: Encourage Me

The good news is you’ve got skills to work with. The low confidence may appear as disengagement, but don’t be fooled. Try these confidence building techniques to encourage her to reach her full potential.

Low-Competence/High Confidence: Coach Me

This employee needs help seeing his strengths and developmental opportunities more clearly. Offering feedback through 360 assessments, specific examples, and coaching will help bring his skills in-line with his self perceptions.

Low-Competence/Low Confidence: Teach Me

This chicken or egg situation is still potentially solvable. Train and teach the skills she needs for success in the role. There may also be a skills miss-match, have deeper development conversations to determine if there is a better fit for her within your organization

What About Joe?

In Joe’s situation, his confidence and competence were shaken. Fortunately, his long track record of success likely means he could easily recover with a bit of teaching and encouragement.

Hannah could start by asking open-ended questions to get to root cause. Once she identified the training need, she could help there, and then provide encouragement to boost his confidence along the way. Helping him to remember how he got through other learning curves would be a good start.

Consider the members on your team. Where do they fall on the competence/confidence continuum? Where do you fall?

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