Managing Staff Performance

Managing staff performance well is an invaluable task

Managing staff performance can be tricky but it is very important. Staff are the most valuable asset in any organisation. International schools can be a little different and it requires a deeper level of understanding in regard to human behaviours, cultures and values.

The nature of workplaces in international schools

International schools tend to predominantly be expatriate staff working side by side with local support staff in cultural contexts that are different to their own. In many schools there can be literally dozens of different cultures and nationalities all working in the same place. This can be exciting but also create layers of challenges when perceptions and behaviours are misunderstood. Human behaviours can be different, motivations and perceptions, all cloud our actions and reactions to different situations. It is not always as simple as it seems.

Cultural Differences

Do not underestimate the significance of cultural difference. We should also not make assumptions that we understand and can fully embrace the diversity that might exist in our schools. 

“I have lived and worked in various locations overseas for 12 years. I lived in China for 8 years. Sometimes I feel like I am still learning things for the very first time. Particularly when dealing with staff from different cultures you are almost better to assume you could be interpreting matters incorrectly, then verify truth by different means. Our history and cultural environments shape our thinking, values and beliefs. An Australian might see something very differently than a Chinese person or even and American. Reserve judgement because difference does not mean something is incorrect or less worthy. Things can just be very different. What motivates people and what is understood can be very different across different cultures.” (Greg Parry)

For example, although in the West we talk about “saving face” on occasion, the concept of “face” is far more deeply-rooted in China, and it’s something you’ll hear people talk about all the time. One of the most obvious ways in which this plays out is the avoidance of public criticism in all but the rarest of circumstances. Where in a Western school a Principal might criticize an employee’s proposal and it be considered constructive,  direct criticism would be uncommon in Chinese culture because it would cause the person being criticized to lose face. Managing staff performance is very different in this environment. To be fair, this topic is very complex and deserves a longer explanation. Try the following articles for further understanding.

Read more: Saving Face in the Chinese Workplace What is is like to work in a Chinese workplace

Common Purpose

Within the frame of local legislation and conventions it is essential, in order for a team to perform well, to create a sense of common purpose, a feeling of being relevant and valued. Staff also require a clear understanding of what is negotiable in their job and what is not negotiable but what is reasonable to expect them to do.  By building systems of accountability within an organisational culture that are framed in positive approaches we can more effectively manage performance as a natural process. By dealing with performance that is off track you are ensuring accountability but you are also being fair. Table the differences when they exist but align everything to a common set of values. “This is how we do things around here.” Not meant to be an autocratic statement but a reinforcement that we embrace all values that are good, just and fair.There is a clear purpose that we all subscribe to.

Frame your position in a fair manner

In all matters relating to managing staff performance you should be respectful in behaviour but also in your mindset. You want people to succeed and you want to turn negative things around. It should be clear that the dissatisfaction is not personal but functional. You like the person but you may not like the behaviours. You should in fact try to demonstrate that you “like and respect the person so much that in spite of the problems, you really want to help them get things on track.” You believe the person is doing the best they possibly can but they either need support or maybe the fit is not quite right. To be clear, your first aim is to satisfy the skill or performance gap. It should be clear that your aim is NOT to dismiss the person.

Deal With things

For many reasons leaders can sometimes put off and delay management of staff performance issues. That is not fair to the organisation and it is also not fair to the staff member. “I have worked here for 2 years and you have never given me this type of feedback” is an all too common complaint by staff members who are dismissed; whether accurate or not. You owe it to people to be honest, authentic and to demonstrate integrity. If you are nervous or anxious about the conversation, that is normal. But, it is not fair to not tell people when they are off track. They need a chance to rectify things and it is your responsibility to flag it and to support them. Managing staff performance means taking steps and actions even when it seems uncomfortable to do so.

Be Clear

When you hire people be very clear about the expectations. Do not get caught up in the hospitality of welcoming people and “hey lets catch up in a few days once you get a feel for the place” type of mentality. It is not fair to the employee and it will backfire later.

If things are off track move swiftly and be clear. In my experience it can seem like no matter what you say, some staff members will not hear negative feedback clearly. I guess we hear what we want to hear but remember that if your process unfortunately leads to dismissal it is essential that they can recall the time when you first told them that things were not on track.

Use simple key phrases that summarise and describe negative behaviours.

Some tips on making things less personal

It is natural for people to take criticism in a very personal way. It is very helpful to use strategies that distance you and the employee from the emotional factors. One strategy I like to use is to list down the issues on a piece of paper and place them on the table. Even the simple gesture of pointing to and referring to an inanimate object rather than a person can depersonalise the sensitive topic you are discussing. It is the behaviours and not the person you are trying to challenge.

Similarly, it is great to have a list of standards and expectations that apply to all. You are then referring to an independent set of standards, not a list of expectations from your mind to theirs. It is not just you that are requiring the behaviour. You are using objective inanimate standards to drive behaviours, not personal opinions, feelings or values.

Written Communication (Documentation)

Communicate the key issues in writing. This written communication should not be with the purpose of bullying or intimidating but with the clear intent that both parties should agree on what took place in a meeting and the dissatisfaction that may exist on either side. Do not be afraid to share their side of the story in this communication even if you have a different opinion. This communication is to verify that the conversation took place and what was discussed. Opinions don’t matter at this point. Facts are important.

“I said that I am concerned that deadlines are not yet being met.”

“I heard you say you need more support and the expectations are different to what you were told.”

Prove to fail

“In spite of everything we did we were not able to change the person’s behaviours or create an environment that he/she could succeed in.”

This is my standard rule or a question I challenge myself with before dismissal.

“Did I prove to fail?”

It is important that we do all that we can and that, as much as possible, it is clear to others that we did. We should exhaust all options, be thorough, kind and considerate. Then if all else fails we take next steps. I am not suggesting a delay. I suggest thorough and comprehensive steps.

An effective organisation needs to build effective performance systems and manage staff performance in ways that build positive culture. There needs to be very specific strategies and behaviours that manage poor performance when things don’t go to plan. Find a mentor that can help you step through the systems as well as personal skills you should employ when managing a staff member not meeting expectations.

Leaders need to learn the ins and outs about those “tough conversations” from process through to careful application of their own personal behaviours. Being tough is not the answer. Being authentic with integrity, even when it is tough to do so, is imperative. Managing staff performance exceptionally well is important and invaluable.

The GSE leadership model and expertise allows us to operate in all regions of the world with a deap understanding of what is required for different contexts. The team is very focussed on Asia and the Middle East but we continue to receive enquiries globally.

For further details about how GSE partners with organisations contact us soon.

GSE’s core business is to set up, manage and improve schools throughout all regions of the world. We also work with corporate organisations focussed on learning and self improvement.

Our extensive team is well recognised as being “education experts” who know how to operate organisations in unique and varied contexts. 

Contact us to explore ways that we can support, improve and accelerate your school’s performance.

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Global Services in Education set up and operate schools in all parts of the world. Governed by a philosophy of global citizenship, every member of the GSE team shares a passion to help shape international education and student achievement through inspiration and collaboration.
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