As a manager, it’s one of the worst parts of the job: you find out one of your employees is consistently performing poorly, not showing up, not doing the work, not pulling his or her weight. So what do you do about it?
Being a good boss means dealing with the good and the bad. But many times managers lack the confidence or will to effectively deal with poor performers.
Creating a supportive and successful company culture demands that you deal with poor performers, because if you don’t, they can become very demoralising for those who are seeking to improve.
Traditionally this is especially true in public sector organisations where underperformance rarely has any real consequences so they carry “dead wood” or people who have no commitment to their job, the organization or any interest in performing. This does however also happen in commercial businesses. I have seen the incredible lengths people will go to to avoid dealing with poor performers including creating new jobs with no responsibility or purpose just so they can put that person somewhere ‘out of the way’.
Look, let’s stop beating around the bush… If you have poor performers — and I mean repeat or consistent poor performers, not those who are having an off day or week — you have two choices: help them to improve or fire them.
Look for ways to help poor performers improve.
Ideally, you want to find ways to help the individual to improve. It’s understandable that some companies and managers are reluctant to fire employees when the costs of replacing them, both monetary and in lost time and productivity, are high.
So managers should first seek to help employees improve. Some employees just need a slightly different set of circumstances or metrics to really thrive. Look back at your past feedback and reviews for this person; if you’ve been consistently providing positive reviews, it’s especially important to offer them the opportunity to turn things around.
Offer constructive feedback. If you’re very lucky, the poor performance might be a simple misunderstanding or lack of a core skill that can easily be fixed when pointed out. Be lavish with your praise and positive with your criticism to avoid further alienating the employee.
Practice active management. Sometimes an employee needs more active support, so be sure to offer yourself as a resource to him and suggest ways you might be helpful. Maybe stepping in with help in time or project management, coordinating resources, or communicating with other employees could be the solution.
Find their motivation. Every employee is unique and each is motivated by something different. Some may be motivated by friendly competition, others may actively dislike competition in the workplace. Some might need to feel they’re working to a specific goal or bonus as opposed to just punching the clock each day. Find out what motivates this particular person to help her succeed.
I believe it’s important to try to help under-performing employees improve, but if they don’t come to the party then show them the door.
Let them go the right way.
Of course, every manager must understand that there is nothing more demoralizing than seeing incompetent and blatantly lazy colleagues get away with doing nothing! Getting rid of the deadwood lifts moral, sends a very clear and powerful message and helps to rejuvenate a business around a shared vision.
But it must be done in the right way. Even though a bad apple might be spoiling the bunch, firing them in the wrong way can undermine the manager’s authority and relationship with her employees.
Give them a warning. If you’ve tried the above methods of helping your employee improve, then provide him with a warning that if he doesn’t show improvement within a certain time frame, say 30 days, he will be terminated. It’s a good idea to document this warning with a memo that can be added to his file.
Give them specific goals. Be very clear on which behaviors you find unacceptable, and what needs to be done to save his job. Just telling someone to “do better” is vague for both of you and open to interpretation. Set clear goals and metrics to be met (or not) by the end of the time frame.
Follow through. If you make the promise that they will be fired if they don’t meet expectations, you must follow through. Make the actual conversation short and to the point. Explain that you are firing them “for cause” but don’t get into details that could result in an argument. Make sure you reassign their duties right away to avoid any confusion or lapse in productivity.
It may be one of the worst things you ever have to do as a manager, but the only thing worse than firing someone is not firing them when you should.