Everyone in leadership faces the same problem: How do you handle employees who aren’t performing up to par?
It can be a real challenge to identify the problem, bring it to the employee’s attention, mutually agree that it’s an issue and develop a plan to correct it.
Some leaders take a hands-off approach, believing that their staff should be able to identify and correct their own performance problems.
Others are optimists who hope that the problem is temporary and will go away by itself. And some want to address the performance problem, but are concerned about creating a conflict with the employee.
Here are five critical steps to handling poor performers:
Clearly identify the problem and its source. This is a two-part process. The first part is stating in simple but specific terms what the problem is. For example: “Amy’s weekly reports have been late for the past three months.” Or: “Ralph has established a pattern of criticizing his staff in team meetings.” It’s helpful to keep in mind whether the problem involves the technical skills required for the job, the interpersonal skills of the individual, or something environmental. The second part is to consider all the possible sources of the problem. The point is to avoid jumping to conclusions about the cause. For example, if your warehouse manager is chronically late to work, it may be that he doesn’t care about his job that much anymore. It may also be that traffic is heavy at the time he leaves for work, and without a company flex time policy in place, he’s stuck commuting at the peak of rush hour. Don’t be surprised if during this step, you realize that company policies could be contributing to the problem.
Review relevant documents. Examine your company’s vision and mission statements, personnel policies and the employee’s job description. Confirm whether or not the target attitudes or behaviors are mentioned in any official company documents. Also, review the employee’s history for prior recommendations. Even if those recommendations don’t pertain to the current problem, you will get a glimpse of how the staff member has responded in the past to suggestions. If employee problems are chronic in your organization, consider consulting with an attorney who specializes in employment law to review your policies and procedures, and then seek an outside organizational consultant.
Outline your goals. Before you meet with the poor-performing employee, decide in advance what you want to discuss, what you want to have accomplished by the end of the meeting, and how you want the employee to feel by the end of the discussion.
This last point is critical. Demoralizing a poor-performer can make the situation even worse, affect the morale of others who work with that person and create unnecessary ill will toward the company. In most of the performance issues I’ve dealt with, good employees already know they’re not doing well and want to do better, but may not have figured out how. (Bad employees also know they’re not doing well, but they don’t care.)
If you have specific remedies to solve the problem, include them in your plan. Examples of common solutions to performance problems include attending training seminars, reading books on technical or management skills, researching specific areas in need of development and working with a mentor within the organization.
Have a sit-down. If you’ve followed steps 1-3, the meeting should go smoothly. As for specific techniques, amazon.com sells how-to books that are just on the topic of having business conversations.
Your mindset critical. If you have the sincere desire to help the employee reach his or her potential, you will achieve your goals.
During the meeting, ask for their view of the problem. Also ask for their thoughts about how to improve the situation. Incorporating their ideas into mutually agreed-upon goals will help ensure their buy-in to the solutions. And ask what additional help or support they need from you or others.
The result of this meeting should be an action plan with three to five goals and the steps to achieve them. Schedule status updates and future meetings. Document the results of the meeting in compliance with applicable policies and laws.
Follow up. Your best developmental plans will only work if there is proper follow up. Review progress on action steps as scheduled. Make adjustments where necessary, and provide lots of motivation, support and positive feedback. When the plan is completed, review the entire process with the employee and recognize their improvements.
In your busy work life, dealing with remedial initiatives can be the last thing you feel like doing. Leaders are future-focused and constantly pursuing new ideas and goals. Dealing with poor performers can be frustrating because it represents, at some level, the derailing of an ideal plan for achieving organizational goals. You can minimize the need for remedial work with employees by proactively planning each staff member’s professional development.
Question: Can you recall recently handling an employee who wasn’t performing well? What did you do?