How to Deal with Poor Performers
Back when I was an IT manager, I had an employee who’d been hired at a senior level by the previous manager of my department. When I took over the department, it quickly became apparent that although this individual worked hard and was highly motivated, he was incompetent. After giving him numerous opportunities to demonstrate he could do the work, every one of which he failed, I had to let him go. It was a miserable experience for me, and of course for him as well.
Poor performance can take many forms, but in general, poor performers consistently don’t deliver the results you expect, make too many mistakes, and require too much of your time relative to the time you spend with other employees. Of course, before declaring an employee a poor performer, make sure there aren’t valid reasons for the inadequate performance, such as insufficient training or a personal problem that’s causing the employee to be distracted.
The key thing is not to let matters slide. Failure to discuss the lackluster performance with the employee can create problems for the entire team. After all, when the performance of a team member falls short, the person’s coworkers are well aware of it. If you don’t take steps to address the situation, these coworkers—the people who are fully competent—will start to distrust you. And the longer you do nothing, the more that distrust will grow.
As important as communication is with all employees, regular and frequent communication is imperative when dealing with a possible performance problem. The sooner you attempt to determine the causes and offer guidance, the better for all concerned.
In having a conversation with the faltering employee, be specific about the problems you’ve identified: what you expected and what happened instead. Draw upon facts, not assumptions, and use available data to the extent possible. This is important whether the employee’s performance has been subpar all along or it was once acceptable and now is falling short. Provide timely feedback so the individual can tie the criticism directly to the aspects of the performance that were inadequate.
Hopefully, you will never have to fire an employee. Just in case, though, it’s advisable to document each discussion and each attempt to help the person. It’s also a good idea to include examples of work done well so it doesn’t come across as if you’re out to get the individual. When I sought advice from HR about the employee I felt I had to terminate, I brought a mountain of paper with me. It didn’t make me feel better that I was told I’d done a good job in documenting the situation, but at least I was prepared.