Magazine article Management Today

First-Class Coach

Magazine article Management Today

First-Class Coach

Article excerpt

Q: I have a problem in that one of my members of staff, who is Asian, isn't very good at her job. I want to give her critical feedback, but I am worried that I will be accused of racism.

A: This is a potentially incendiary issue and one that must be treated sensitively. You must be firm on treating this employee exactly as you should any of your employees - with respect and transparency. In the UK, equality in employment is the law. Equality means equal opportunities to do our best, and this includes being informed when we are falling below the required standard. If no-one ever tells us, how are we to find out? And, if we are ignorant of our shortcomings, what are the chances that we'll continue to underperform and gradually alienate colleagues who do receive negative feedback? We will also wonder why we are apparently exempt from the consequences of poor performance.

So there is no question that you must address this issue and that the first step is to alert your staff member that there is a problem. The trickier thing is how to go about doing it so that she gets the message and you avoid false accusations of racism.

The first thing to establish is the exact nature of her poor performance. Is it constant or only occasional? Does it stem from lack of knowledge, lack of confidence, a negative attitude or some other specific cause? Are you the only person who has noticed this, or do others have information that will be useful to you in providing accurate, relevant feedback to your staff member that will enable her to improve?

The next thing is timing: do you carry out regular performance reviews with your people, where you acknowledge achievements as well as focus on behaviour and outputs that are less satisfactory? If you do, it will be much easier to present this feedback session as a routine matter, rather than singling out someone and perhaps appearing to be picking on an individual.

As with any development session that includes feedback, start by asking your report how she thinks things are going: what's going well, what's going less well and what she would like to focus on developing in the future. Listen carefully to her responses: you may discover the reasons for her poor performance and you'll be able to judge whether she has any insight into the fact that she is not making the grade. …

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