How to Improve an Employee's Technical Performance
Updated: May 25, 2022
I always make a point of jotting down the accomplishments and failures of my employees as I become aware of them. By the end of the year, I have a large number of entries at my disposal that I otherwise would have long forgotten. A couple of years ago, I had to deliver a negative performance review to one of my more senior employees. I followed my standard coaching approach, sharing positive attributes first, followed by a number of areas of concern. He missed numerous deliverables by a wide margin, which had a significant negative impact on our company's performance.
He insisted that none were his fault, believing he was largely a victim, and that other teams had not delivered on their obligations to him. At the start of our conversation, he responded with the same defence to each issue I pointed out. As constructively and calmly as I could, I shared how critical it was for him to focus on improving his relationships with many of his peers in the company. He was clever technically but he was abrasive in his interactions and he didn't hesitate to point fingers at others when problems surfaced.
I explained how he might have been able to address many of the obstacles he encountered if he had developed a strong network of support around him. By being prepared with concrete examples, I was able to make him understand that he will struggle to achieve his professional goals unless he puts as much focus into relationship building as he does into his technical skills.
The following year was much better, as the relationships he developed across the company improved and he was able to exploit them to drive far better outcomes.
What if it's your own performance that needs to improve?
Whenever I changed jobs, sometimes to assume senior roles in industries that were altogether new to me, I always faced a period of insecurity. While I could fake my performance as well as anyone, I felt a sense of the imposter syndrome. I knew that if I didn't find a way to up-skill quickly, it was only a matter of time before my lack of knowledge would be discovered.
I believe that self-awareness is the first step to sustained improvement in any situation. My approach was always the same. I buckled down and worked twice as hard until that
feeling of self-doubt slowly began to dissipate. I asked experts for as much help as possible and always prepared questions in advance. I read feverishly at night, I put considerable effort into improving my product knowledge, I studied competitors' solutions, I dug into the depths of our technology, and I took notes on everything I learned for later review and reinforcement.
Over time, the self-doubt made way for a feeling of quiet confidence. It would happen slowly, sometimes weeks, sometimes months, but never years. I didn't expect to know everything but I did need to know enough to manifest original ideas and to contribute actively in a wide range of technical and business discussions. When I reached that point, I knew I was back on track.