Companies tout their ability to come up with innovative products, services and ideas for customers, but managers are far less imaginative when it comes to handling employees not working up to par.
Often, the knee-jerk reaction to an underperformer is fast termination, immediately followed by an interminably slow recruitment and onboarding process. Not only does this chew up time and resources, but it can demoralize departments. Plus, if the problem wasn’t the employee but the system itself, the next hire will likely fall into the same pattern of mediocrity, exasperation, or burnout.
A better response to the issue of a lagging employee is to dig into the root of the problem. Plenty of factors and barriers can drive poor performance. Until managers seek out the true reasons for underwhelming deliverables, they’ll be doomed to repeat the experience.
Understanding why talent may (temporarily) be lacking
Managers who don’t immediately hit the eject button may discover that what seems like an individual challenge is actually an organizational concern. The only way to figure out what’s really happening is to be willing to coach people who struggle to fulfill their requirements.
Truly, mentoring can be the key to solving many on-the-job conundrums. Michael D. Mumford, author of "Pathways to Outstanding Leadership: A Comparative Analysis of Charismatic, Ideological, and Pragmatic Leaders," says that hands-on, collaborative leadership support lowers employees’ resistance to be creative. He refers to this type of management as “respecting the ideas and the competence of the person as a creator,” which is in direct contrast to hire-fast, fire-faster philosophies.
Another benefit to switching to a coaching style when managing underperformers is that collective engagement begins to tick upward. A study released by Deloitte in 2016 explained that the key to engagement is an “enabling infrastructure.” Individuals who aren’t privately or publicly chastised for one-time errors feel more apt to come forward when they need different timelines or see an opportunity to make tangible changes to positively affect deliverables.
Opening the path to talk instead of termination
Is one or more of your team members continuously delivering unacceptable, uninspiring work? Implement these tactics to find out if the problem lies at the company’s — and not the worker's — feet.
1. Hold one-on-one meetings
These shouldn’t be scary, “you’re in big trouble, buster” conversations. Make your time with employees a prime opportunity for them to describe their obstacles. Listen fully. Then, explore ways to partner on closing gaps in processes to help them do better work. They’re the ones doing the jobs; you’re not helping if all you do is dictate.
2. Invest in necessary resources
Money’s tight everywhere. That doesn’t mean leaders should justify holding back resources from employees. When you hear that your employees aren’t able to efficiently or effectively complete assignments because they don’t have the proper tools, take their words seriously.
3. Allocate time to lead
You have a running to-do list that never gets shorter. Still, set aside time to inspire and coach your people. Prioritize your time according to what your employees need from you, which may mean coming in earlier or staying later than you anticipated.
4. Talk “big picture” with the team
Sometimes, people can’t see how they fit into an organization's vision without prompting. Give them a 30,000-foot perspective on their unique role; it may just provide the meaning they need to turn the corner. Never underestimate the power of purpose; when individuals feel their contributions matter, they often step up their games.
Although parting ways with a bad hire is sometimes inevitable, it shouldn’t be the first line of defense (as long as the employee did nothing unethical or egregious). Focus on identifying and removing obstacles, then evaluate the results. You may just find that your “questionable fit” is actually a fantastic hit.
Perri Grinberg is responsible for providing strategic guidance for HR across RAPP US. She has 19-plus years’ experience crafting sound HR strategies focused on talent management, organizational design and development, compensation, employee relations and performance management.