How To Deal With Poor Performance


I was posed a question on Twitter after my blog post last week, Help Employees Believe In Themselves. The question that I was asked was “How do you deal with an employee who is not performing?” That’s a hard question to answer in only 140 characters, so it prompted this post.

I ask this question first; “Is the employee new and is still in the learning stage? OR is this a seasoned employee?”

It is important to make that distinction.

A new employee needs time to get up to speed. If they are learning at a slower pace than other employees, maybe they have not been provided sufficient training. Maybe they need a little bit of extra help. The best thing to do in a case like this, is to sit down with the new employee and ask what supports they need to help them be successful in their new role. A dialogue needs to be started so that the employee knows what is expected of them. Goals and timelines need to be established with regular check-ins to make sure everything is going okay. It is my belief that you have to provide the supports necessary to help a new employee be successful. There is nothing worse than being put into a new role with the expectation that you’ll sink or swim, with no guidance or training. If the new employee continues to struggle after being provided ample training, coaching and supports, then there may be no alternative but to end the employment relationship. Sometimes there may be an opportunity to move this employee into another role that would better suit them before going the termination route.

The second situation is the one that I come across more often. It goes something like this; you have an employee who has been around for a while and is either lazy, has a bad attitude, or generally ‘needs improvement’. Usually I (HR) am informed of this employee when a manager loses patience after tolerating bad performance for months and comes in my office wanting to terminate the employee. I first ask the manager if they have spoken with said employee about their performance and have provided counseling and opportunities for the employee to improve. I would say about 3/4’s of the time the response that I get from the manager is “No.”

I provide guidance to the manager about the conversation that they need to have with the employee and send them on their way. This is generally what I tell them to do:

1) You have to have a conversation with the employee that is not performing up to par. It will be a difficult conversation, but avoiding it makes matters worse, and in the end it will affect the whole team. The rest of the staff may start to feel resentment towards the employee that is not performing well, especially if they have to pick up the slack. Avoidance is not a solution to the problem.

2) When you sit down with the employee be prepared with specific examples of their behavior/actions. Don’t generalize with statements such as “You are not pulling your weight” or “You have a bad attitude”. While those statements may be true, you need concrete examples to help reinforce your message. Examples such as “Last week I asked you to do X,Y,and Z. You did complete what I asked and as a result other employees had to cover for you. Doing X,Y, and Z is part of your job and the expectation is that you finish it.”

3) Ask “How can I help you?”. Managers need to provide opportunities for the employee to improve. Maybe they need some extra training. Every effort should be made to coach and counsel the employee.

4) Come up with a plan for improvement. This should be a two way discussion. Set goals and objectives. Put them in writing and have the employee sign off on them. Have regular check-ins to see how the employee is doing.

5) Before the meeting is finished ask the employee what they heard. It is important to have them repeat back to you what they think the message of the meeting is. If the employee gets upset and yells, or tries to blame it on someone else it is important not to react to it. I teach managers to remain calm and to be a mirror and reflect back what they are observing. If the employee did not understand the message, repeat it. Then ask to see them again in a couple of days to see how they are doing and to review what was discussed.

If after several attempts of coaching and counselling the employee there is no improvement, then it may be time to end the employment relationship. It is my belief and philosophy that ending the employment relationship for poor performance should not come as a surprise to the employee. They should have been given ample opportunities to improve with your help and support.

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