the employee

By Steffen Maier

It’s time to pull your head out of the sand, you need to deal with poor performers! Sometimes it is uncomfortable to deal with things you would rather avoid, but there is no advantage to delaying the inevitable. If an employee is not stepping up to the mark, as a manager, you must take the appropriate actions to encourage change. If such change does not occur you may be forced to take more hardline actions and initiate termination proceedings.

But, how do you actually know that you have a poorly performing team member?

This may seem like an arbitrary, obvious question, but, it is one that needs exploring. Where are you getting your information from; colleagues, office gossip, gut feeling or irrefutable data? This is important too, as it has been documented that extensive employee manipulation of feedback ratings has occurred in companies who have utilized 360-degree feedback for performance evaluation including GE (Welch 2001), IBM (Linman 2011), and Amazon (Kantor and Streitfeld 2015). Therefore, relying on opinions from colleagues is not the best course of action. Instead, when faced with the question of quality of performance it is better to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Is your employee failing to produce results? Of course for certain jobs, such as in sales, etc it is much easier to determine if targets are being met. But regardless or the type of job, it is imperative to measure the employee’s performance.
  2. Does your employee make a lot of mistakes? We are human, and all make mistakes. However, what should be questioned here is the frequency of employee’s blunders. If the employee makes substantially more mistakes than everyone else then you must consider it a red flag.
  3. Do they take more of your time? As a manager you most likely have several people working under you, all of whom you must supervise. Therefore it is important to make sure that no one employee takes up too much of your time. If they do, you must put some thought into why this may be.
  4. Do they need a lot of supervision? As above, managers do not have an infinite amount of time, therefore it is important to have team members that can follow instructions and work independently. If one employee is taking up too much of your time; you must assess the usefulness of the time spent ‘supervising’ and whether it would be better spent elsewhere.

If you answered yes to one or more of the above questions then, chances are you have a poor performer on your hands. So, what are the next steps to be taken? How do you as a manager deal with the poor performer and inspire them to change their ways; and if this cannot be done, how do you let them go?

Come on, get your head out of the sand; let’s jump in!

The recipe for success

While the above questions may serve as a ‘warning system’, you should take a lesson out of Google’s book and rely on data: cold hard facts. This way you ensure that emotions, existing pre-conceptions and gut feeling plays no part when rooting out and exposing poor performers. This makes it easier for you as a manager to relay this information to the employee in question. In this sense, it’s nothing personal, it’s just business.

Step 1: Do Performance Reviews

In order to have the data on which to base your performance decisions, you should carry out performance reviews of your whole team. This will provide you with the necessary information to assess the individual contribution of each team member. To carry out effective performance reviews that yield the correct information is hugely important and more challenging than you might think with Society for Human Resource Management finding that over 90% of managers consider performance reviews an ineffective means of gathering actionable information.

Step 2: Evaluate the reasons for the poor performance

Once you have deemed your employee’s performance sub-par, it is important to ask yourself the reasons for this. It may very well be the case that a small adjustment in work focus or direction is all that the employee needs to get back on track. Once the data has revealed poor performance, here are the questions to ask yourself, and the steps you should take to resolve the issues:

Is this behaviour uncharacteristic of the employee? Perhaps this is an employee that has been working with you for many years and their performance has only just taken a nosedive. Therefore the poor performance is uncharacteristic and most likely, explainable.

In most of these instances, the key to resolving the issues is; you guessed it, communication. Sit down and have a conversation with the employee. Relay your worries about their performance and start a conversation to get to the root of the problem. For tips on how to broach difficult topics with employees read this piece on how to give a good performance review.

Is the employee dealing with unusual issues at work or experiencing some personal traumas at home? As much as everyone would like to leave their problems at the door; this is not always possible and people dealing with serious problems in their personal lives may find it difficult to focus.

Once again, sit down with the employee in question. Perhaps he/she is dealing with issues you are unaware of. It could be any number of things from bullying in the workplace to a nasty break-up, either way, if you are aware of the problems you can deal with it and maybe cut the employee some slack while he/she deals with the problem.

Has the workload of the employee suddenly changed? A decrease in the quantity of work can have an affect on the employee’s ability to stay focused or motivated, as they may feel as though they are being edged out. Likewise, a sudden increase in workload may also hamper an employee’s ability to prioritise tasks and will ultimately disrupt their workflow resulting in tasks not being completed in a timely manner.

Again, you need to have a 1:1 meeting to discuss how the employee’s priorities are aligned with those of the business. Perhaps it is just a quiet period for the business and everyone’s workload has decreased. If your employee is feeling demotivated by the decrease in work, explain this to them. Equally so, if the employee’s workload is too high, have a conversation and discuss how you can fix this, perhaps by offloading some of it to another employee.

Has the focus of the employee’s work changed? Or is the employee not suited to the job? Perhaps one employee has left, and the employee in question has picked up some of the slack. However, it is not work that the employee enjoys, nor is motivated to complete. Or perhaps the employee is just not suited to the job. In the instance of the latter, you as a manager are failing to tap into the employee’s genuine talents and that situation should be rectified before you lose the employee for good.

A meeting to discuss the employee’s talents and passions are in order here. If it is the case that the employee really dislikes a part of their workload, and that another employee would be better suited to the task, then you should consider a reshuffle and a different division of labour. This may be all you need to do to get your employee back on track. If so, it is undeniably, time very well spent. If this isn’t feasible, of course the need of the business must come first, and it may be necessary to consider termination.

Is the employee just a poor performer in everything they do? This is an unfortunate place to find yourself in, and it is a last resort, but if the employee is genuinely not suited to the company or to the work he/she is required to do; if it is genuinely a case of just overall poor performance then you need to terminate the employee.

Review: Take 2

At this point you should have a second review period. Use this review to ensure that you correctly diagnosed the reason for poor performance during the first review.

If you diagnosed the problem correctly, spoke with the employee, but their performance has still not improved, then you are left with no option but to initiate termination proceedings. However, if results are starting to improve, this review period can be used to reinforce the employee’s renewed good performance, by acknowledging their efforts and setting new goals so as to continue in the upward trajectory. Set up additional meetings with the employee so that you can continue to support and monitor their progress. Once their level of output reaches average company levels than congratulation; you have successfully turned around a poor performer!

After all is said and done

It should be apparent by now that there are many reasons for poor performers. Be careful not to jump to conclusions and assume the poor performer is just lazy. There are more likely other factors at play as shown above. Take time to talk with your employee and isolate the issue. With a bit of cooperation and effort from both sides, you’ll be able to resolve the problem and in know time at all you’ll have turned a poor performer into a valuable and productive member of your team. Well done!

If you’d like to learn more about how to create a better, happier work environment, download this whitepaper to discover how to boost your company’s culture or take a free course on ‘Creating the Ultimate Employee Experience’.

Steffen Maier is co-founder of Impraise a web-based and mobile solution for actionable, timely feedback at work. Based in New York and Amsterdam, Impraise turns tedious annual performance reviews into an easy process by enabling users to give and receive valuable feedback in real-time and when it’s most helpful. The tool includes an extensive analytics platform to analyze key strengths and predict talent gaps and coaching needs. @stgmaier