This week we’re talking about the topic that most managers and leaders dread more than any other: Dealing with poor performance. Last week, we discussed misconduct where, either through poor judgment or with intention, an employee commits an act that is against the rules. Misconduct is relatively straightforward to deal with when compared to handling poor performance. Misconduct is usually yes or no. Poor performance can be a matter of degree and harder to measure.
How do you define poor performance?
I define poor performance as the employee not delivering the results needed in the job. Particularly when it impacts your team’s results.
Is the employee set up for success?
Before you determine that you have an employee with poor performance, you should take a step back and check to see that the following are in place:
- The employee knows what they are expected to do and to deliver.
- The employee was hired with what seemed to be the ‘right’ skills and experience needed to be successful in the job.
- You have provided coaching to the employee to help them be successful. You have been specific with them and they know that there is a gap between their results and the results needed.
- You and the employee have discussed the gap and there aren’t any systems or process issues causing the gap.
If the above are not in place, you face the prospect of replacing the current employee but getting the same result – more poor performance.
What do your other employees expect you to do?
Your employees want you do deal with the poor performance. An employee who is not delivering the results your team needs is dragging down the whole team and you need to deal with it – for several reasons. The first is that you can’t afford to load more work on other employees to make up for the employee’s lack of results. And that includes you. This will wear you and your other employees out. Second, accepting poor performance will impact the culture of your team. Don’t you want your team culture to value good, if not great, performance?
Even though your other employees want you to deal with poor performance, they will be watching ‘how ‘ you handle the situation. You need to firmly but respectfully deal with the employee. So, you don’t yell at the employee or publicly criticize the employee. You need to insist that your team is respectful too. Again, the culture of your team is critical and ‘respect for others’ should be one of your values.
Understanding poor performance
In my experience, I see three drivers of poor performance. The first is that the employee doesn’t have the technical or job-specific capabilities to be successful in the job. Maybe you or your predecessor made a poor hire choice. Perhaps the job has changed and grown but the employee’s capabilities have not. This might be a situation where, if possible, you could identify another position where the employee can be successful, as long as the next driver is not a factor.
A second driver of poor performance is attitudinal. The employee has an attitude that sets them up for failure. They may have the technical know how and even be successful in parts of their job but they are not willing to listen and learn different approaches. Two examples I have seen come to mind. The first is the employee who thinks their work is fine, or even brilliant, and is not willing to listen to feedback on their work. The second example is the salesperson who is great with customers, but arrogant and condescending with the internal support staff. Attitudinal issues that cause poor performance are very hard to fix, and I don’t recommend moving such an employee into another role.
The third driver of poor performance can be events in an employee’s personal life that impact their performance at work. That can include substance abuse, family health problems, the loss of a loved one, the birth of a child, or other events. Life happens and it can impact performance immediately and negatively. You need to tread carefully once you become aware of the situation. There are legal ramifications with almost all ‘life events.’ In addition, again, your other employees will be watching how you handle such ‘life events.’
The four things you need to do to handle poor performance
Dealing with poor performance is challenging. You need to make sure you are set up for success and that you have help as follows:
- Don’t go it alone. You need to keep your manager well informed of the situation. They should be able to provide guidance.
- Immediately involve your HR team once you realize that ‘normal’ coaching is not going to turn the employee’s performance around. Your HR team will ensure you are following company policies and processes, and keep you out of trouble legally. Also, they have probably dealt with similar situations and can give you a better perspective. They can especially help with the ‘life events’ that you will face with your employees. If your company has a progressive discipline process, they will coach you through it.
- Document everything once you get into the heavy coaching phase with your employee. This includes emails and notes documenting your discussions and coaching with the employee.
- Finally, make sure you don’t give mixed messages to your employee. I have seen too many situations when a manager wants to fire an employee, and I find that the employee’s last performance review makes them look like an acceptable, if not outstanding, employee. And, they may have even given the employee a pay increase and bonus. And now they want to fire them?
So now, you find that you will be terminating an employee. In next week’s blog, I will discuss some do’s and don’ts while terminating an employee.
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