It’s something you dread as a manager: you take over a department, or are newly hired in to manage one and realize very quickly that there is an employee who isn’t pulling his or her weight and has not been for quite some time, contrary to what their employee files may show.
Even if performance issues have never been addressed in the past, the worst thing you can do is to continue to allow poor performers to flounder – it won’t do them any favors and won’t help the morale of your team, who are probably well aware of a fellow team member’s lack of contributions. How can you best get them back on track or respectfully manage the exit process if no progress is made?
Responding to Poor Performers
- Gather information. If the employee’s former manager or department head is still with the company, do a bit of digging. Even if nothing is in writing, he or she may remember some situations that may give you some insight as to any issues this employee had been having. Were they promoted too quickly with no real ramp-up time or required to take on work that they had never been trained to do in order to fill a gap created by someone leaving? Was there a personality conflict between the manager and employee that prevented any meaningful communication?
- Get to know your team – and what they do. Ask what challenges they are currently facing in their work, what motivates them to stay with the company, what about their job frustrates them. Walk through their job descriptions individually with to understand what it is they are responsible for and find out what may not be clear to them… or you. Is there too much on an employee’s plate? Are they required to wait for information from another team that always misses deadlines? During both group and individual meetings, pay attention to the non-verbal cues as well. They may signal a lack of motivation, burnout, or pent-up anger or frustration; don’t let those go without probing further.
- Don’t wait. An Annual Performance Review six months down the road is too late to address any issues. After your initial meetings with your employees, the first time something comes across your desk that is late or full of errors, the first report you receive showing poor results, or the first time someone was not prepared for a meeting, bring it up immediately with the employee during a one-to-one session. A previous manager may simply found it easier to correct erroneous work him or herself prior to sending it on, or let a lack of sales or results slide for far too long. This is your chance to set the standard going forward.
Ensure there are no misunderstandings about what is required, where to go for information or if there are obstacles in the employee’s way that may be hindering performance. Be sure to document this first sign of possible poor performance in your files, but give your employee a chance to improve prior to issuing a corrective action or putting him or her on a PIP (Performance Improvement Plan.)
- Time for a PIP? Performance Improvement Plans can be valuable tools if they are timely and thorough. Once you have determined that it isn’t a lack of information or resources affecting employee performance, it may be time to place a poor performer on a PIP, which provides you and the employee with a list of specific items that the employee needs to improve, and a timeline for improvement. It also states what actions may be taken if significant improvement is not made. Waiting too long to put an employee on a Plan can send confusing signals, as some employees take a lack of feedback to be a positive sign. Your HR department should be aware of your desire to issue the plan and can assist in crafting one with you that includes a reasonable timeline. The Plan should also outline milestone one-to-one meetings in order to gauge any progress made and highlight those areas that still need improvement.
And finally, the key step is
- Follow through. While the ideal goal of the PIP is improved performance, maybe the most difficult part of the process for a manager is when the first two milestones have passed and an employee isn’t showing any signs of improvement. Demotions or terminations are never easy, but allowing poor performers to continue to struggle in the job they have, or simply transferring them away to another department to avoid taking action, is doing a disservice to both the employee and your workplace. The important thing is to have the documentation in place that will support any corrective action steps you decide you need to take.
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