Managing Poor Performance

by Eric Wann

I believe that people want to do a good job when they come to work. When this is not the case, it is typically a combination of the overall organization and their immediate manager that has not provided the environment for success needed for that employee. With that being said, every manager will eventually be faced with the situation of an employee who is under performing in their position. The question becomes what to do next?

First of all, it is essential that the manager approach this situation with one goal in mind: how do I help make this employee successful? In a previous edition of this newsletter we addressed the true cost of turnover. Remember, the cost of releasing this employee from the organization is somewhere between 30 – 150% of the employee’s annual salary. This means that even for entry level positions the cost to the organization is between $7 – 10,000.

So, how do we approach the poor performance of an employee? We make certain that we understand the root cause of the performance issue and address the root cause specifically. To accomplish this, ask yourself the following questions in the following order:

1. Is the poor performance caused by a “mechanical” issue?

A mechanical issue is any issue that is outside the direct control of the employee. It may be a tool or a piece of equipment that is wrong for the task or that is not even provided. It may be a software issue. The manager’s first responsibility is to provide the proper environment for the success of the employee.

If the answer to this first question is “YES”, the manager should fix the situation by providing the mechanical solution that works for the employee. If the answer is “NO”, go to question #2.

2. Is the poor performance caused by a “personal” issue?

A personal issue could be a personal problem outside of work. It could be a personal issue with another employee, a customer, or even with you, the manager. If the personal problem is outside the organization, the manager can assist by helping to brainstorm resources for assistance. An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a great place to start if your company provides one. If the source is within the organization, the manager must help the employee come to a resolution.

If the answer to this question is also “NO”, move to the next question.

3. Is the poor performance trainable?

If the answer to this third question is “YES”, provide the employee with the necessary training to help them be successful. Do not, however, assume that every issue is a training issue. Training is helpful when the issue is a skills or knowledge concern. But, training is not the answer to every situation. If the answer to this third question is “NO”, go to the next question.

4. Is the poor performance caused by you, the manager, managing the employee in the wrong manner?

Remember, each employee is an individual and must be managed as such. If, how you are managing this employee does not seem be helping them be the best they can be, try something different. Get to know your employee on a more individual level. Understand what motivates the employee and create the environment to release that motivation.

If the answer to this last question is “NO”, you probably have an employee that does not have the talent needed for success in their current position. I suggest that you look within your organization for a better talent match for this employee. If a better match does not exist, it may be best to release this employee to the marketplace and encourage them to seek a position that will allow them to be successful.