How to Find the Willpower to Address Performance Issues

HR consultants discussing a performance management project.
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We all have parts of our jobs that we don’t like as much as others.  For supervisors and managers, the position comes with some tough interpersonal responsibilities.

I’ve yet to meet a supervisor who likes to tell someone they’ve done something wrong or fire someone who is not a good fit for the role.  Delivering corrective action is one task most managers are likely to put off.

So how do we, as supervisors, muster up the willpower to do these tasks?

I’m a firm believer that you should do what feels good.  Nothing good can result from something that is done in anger or unhappiness.  But if that’s the case, how does anything ever get done?

If we all wait around until we’re happy to go grocery shopping, make dinner, exercise, make the bed, or confront a colleague, those things may never happen.  But what if, rather than waiting around, you create the good feelings needed to approach your most dreaded tasks?

The good news is that in three quick steps, you can be back in the driver’s seat of your work rather than hiding from it.  Keep reading to learn how.

Find Your Willpower

The secret to finding the willpower needed to tackle unpleasant tasks is to focus on the bigger picture and the longer term.  Psychologists call it “delayed gratification” when a person can sacrifice feeling good today in order to feel great at a later point in time.

People who can do this regularly are more successful in all areas of their lives than those who only live for the immediate “feel-good” feeling.

To move forward on a tough task, you must take your focus off the immediate discomfort and put it on the positive end result.  Try the following three-step process several times, and reflect on how it works for you.HR consultants discussing project management.

Step 1: Notice You’re Avoiding

The next time you’re putting off a tough supervisory task, take notice.

This is the hardest step of this process because we go through most of the moments in our life mindlessly.  Our emotions go up and down, but we rarely stop to wonder why or to try to figure out what we can do to shift them intentionally.

If you’re like me, you can come up with masterful excuses why you’re not doing something.  What makes them so crafty at helping us fool ourselves is that they’re true, but they don’t really get to the real issue.  After all, who wants to admit they’re procrastinating?

Start to notice those justifications, such as, “I ran out of time again today to talk to Lucy about the low quality of her work” or “I need some more time to review my notes regarding Joe’s tardiness record before I speak with him.”

When you repeatedly put off a task that you’ve identified as unpleasant, it’s a signal that it’s time to stop.  Noticing your behavior is the first step to controlling this unconscious and unproductive habit.

Step 2: Find Your Why

Once you’ve identified an area that you’re putting off, find 30 minutes of alone time.  Maybe do it over lunch so you don’t feel guilty about not “getting work done,” although the exercise you’re about to do will take every task you do up a notch.

Grab a notebook and a pen.  Spend the next 30 minutes writing your thoughts about the following question:

“What am I doing this for?”

For most people, the answers are a combination of things that have these two elements: 1) It brings something good to them and 2) it brings something good to others.

Approach this question from several different levels.

First, ask the question regarding the specific task you’re delaying.  Why do you think the uncomfortable conversation needs to happen?  It may be so that the individual can improve (what it does for others), the team can increase its productivity, or when others see you that you have such a great team, you’ll get that promotion you’ve been after (what it does for you).

Second, think about your job.  Why have you chosen to do this job?  It may be that, as a supervisor, you feel in the zone when you are able to schedule people and work in a way that accomplishes a goal (what it does for you).  And, it could also be that you enjoy helping your team learn and grow (what it does for others).

Third, consider this question from the perspective of what you want out of life.  What kind of life do you want to lead? It may be a life in which you can utilize your talents (what it does for you) to help others be their best (what it does for others).

Just one or all your answers can serve as your motivation to move forward on the task.  Rather than dreading the task, it’s now clear that it’s simply one step on the path toward your dreams.

Step 3: Take Action

After you’ve articulated and visualized the reason you’re doing this task, use that momentum to take an action step.  It may be as simple as blocking time on your calendar to prep your talking points for the meeting or scheduling the meeting with the employee.

It doesn’t have to be big, but take some action toward the item you’ve been procrastinating.  If you don’t, you’re at risk of refocusing on the discomfort over the bigger picture goal and falling back

into the procrastination loop.

Train Your Willpower Muscle Daily

The way to make a habit of stepping up to even the most challenging tasks is to spend time reviewing your big-picture “why” every single day.  It’ll be fresh in your mind and, therefore, right there when you need it to pull you forward.

Use this easy, familiar mantra to remind yourself to pull your “why” up in your mind (or from your notes) when you’re slipping back into the cozy, familiar, comfort zone – “Keep your eye on the prize!”

There’s No Time Like the Present

Before your day sucks you back in and you forget what you just learned in this article, take a few minutes right now to slay the procrastination dragon.

What tricky supervisory task have you allowed to sit on the back burner? Don’t let it continue to simmer until it burns the pan, go through the exercise above now.

“What am I doing this for?” 

“Why am I a supervisor?”

Take advantage of this forum for a bit of social accountability and leave your answer in a comment below.  I’m eager to read your “why.”

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