Music to your ears

HR expert Kate Russell looks at workforce performance

It’s strange what can influence someone’s performance. For example, it is a curious fact that Olympic athletes perform better if their teeth are well looked after. And despite Disney’s exhortations to “whistle while you work”, you may not necessarily link music with better performance. Yet that is exactly what neuroscientists at the Proceedings for the National Academy of Science have done by studying the brain patterns of all sorts of manual workers whilst they listen to music.

The author of the study, Tom Fritz, said that whilst previous studies had assumed that music simply distracted workers from the monotony of their work, in fact it is more to do with the beat of the music subconsciously being a driving force that has the effect.

Workers who spent their time digging or continuously moving large items about worked faster, harder and took fewer breaks than their non-musical counterparts. This is particularly interesting since the music did not have the effect of distracting them from either their work or its monotony, but actually spurred them on. Those who had no music were generally less productive and worked more slowly.

Under-performance at work is the most common complaint about employees amongst our merchant clients. Poor performance can be caused by many things: lack of aptitude, lack of knowledge or skills, slow speed, lack of flexibility and so on.

Interestingly many supervisors and site managers don’t even know there is a poor performance problem. The question to ask is this: “Do all of your employees meet all of your reasonable standards nearly all the time?” If not, there is some work to be done.

The problem with poor performance is it’s often so minor that dealing with it seems like taking a sledge hammer to crack a nut. Many merchants are aware of that niggle but don’t realize they can do anything about it. It feels like tiny piece of gravel in your shoe, nagging you like a dull toothache. But you can remove it and move on far more effectively. An ability to identify and tackle poor work performance effectively in a timely fashion is essential. Getting work done effectively through your team is the essence of running a successful site.

The starting point is to investigate the matter with the employee to identify the cause of the problem. In many cases the solution will become apparent. If you can remove or reduce the cause of the problem, the employee’s performance is likely to improve.

The key components of managing performance successfully are:

1. setting and communicating standards

2. regular feedback

3. correction where needed.

Discuss the issue with the employee as soon as you notice that he is not performing work to the standard you require. Keep the conversation objective and stick to the facts. So for example, you would say “You’ve missed the deadline for submitting timber stock orders six times this year so far, on each occasion by at least two days”, rather than “You’re hopeless – you never meet your deadlines”.

Create a performance improvement plan in which you agree and set down precise, measurable performance targets. Monitor them regularly, providing support, training and feedback as required. Keep notes of all your conversations.

Give enough time for the employee to improve. This should be at least three months, but it does depend on the circumstances. If in doubt give more time rather than less.

Note that the process of encouraging the employee to improve the employee’s performance starts at the informal stage. If it becomes necessary to escalate to the formal process, the performance improvement plan will continue to run in parallel with any formal sanctions.

So turn up the radio, couple it with a rigorously managed performance improvement plan and watch the positive effects on the bottom line of your business!

Kate Russell is the MD of Russell HR Consulting / @katerussellhr

About Guest Blogger - Kate Russell

Kate Russell is one of this country's most outspoken practitioners on HR issues. She used to have a column in Metro newspaper called 'HR Headmistress' and she's published numerous books on the subject.

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