When I met with my former Italian human resources director, which often was over dinner, he would frequently tell me, “In Italia, dinner is about the relationship. Not the food.” I responded, “You have me fooled. This food and wine are great!”
He was right, of course. When food and wine are extraordinary, as they are in Italy, it is easy to miss the Italian’s long-standing cultural heritage about dinner: Dinner is to be shared and celebrated with friends and family—and even with business colleagues. Dinner is about the relationship.
There is a similar analogy with performance appraisals. They are really about the relationship and not the rating, the pay raise, or even the feedback.
Building relationships with your best workers is easy.
Your best workers are getting their work done on time, are helpful, take initiative, get along with the team, and make you look good! What’s not to like?
Building relationships with employees who have major skills to master or behaviors to change, is more difficult. To get the most out of your team, however, it is essential that you build relationships with all team members, even the poor performers.
When leaders ask for my advice on how to work with their poor performers, my first question is, “Have you provided direct feedback about their shortcomings, as well as clear evidence?” For many leaders, that basic step has not been done. And, providing direct feedback is only the beginning. Leaders also need to make sure that the poorly performing employee has a clear understanding of why making improvements, or changing their behavior, is critical to performing well on the job and pleasing clients.
It is also critical to provide support for the employee to make the necessary changes, through coaching and training. The standard I hold out for leaders is to be absolutely clear, empathetic and supportive of the poor performer—while holding them to high standards. Even if you must take an employee out of their role because they can’t improve, they may be thankful for the feedback, the new opportunity, and your support. That is building a relationship.
Building relationships with the rest of the team is also critical, since change in business is constant and rapid. Even today’s best performer may struggle with the next new business strategy or vital skill they need to learn.
This year, as you sit down with your employees to provide their end of year performance appraisals, in addition to performance and development feedback, and learning about their career aspirations and what they like and don’t like about their jobs, remember the advice from my Italian human resources director: Build the relationship.
Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting and is a Managing Partner of InnovationOne. He consults on innovation, talent management, developing agile leaders and teams, and other strategic initiatives. Questions? Please e-mail Victor at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.victorhrconsultant.com. For innovation visit www.InnovationOne.US.