Addressing and Correcting Poor Employee Performance

“Management must do a better job with problem employees and correct situations.” – Actual comment from an employee exiting a company.

The truth of any business is that the employees’ perceptions are reality. If managers allow issues to go unaddressed, work will get piled onto more capable employees, resulting in great talent leaving the company due to frustration. Of course, discussing and properly correcting poor employee performance can be a tricky slope to navigate, and it takes prompt action and careful attention to detail on the manager’s part.

Where to Start

Having a difficult conversation with anyone can be tough and awkward to start, but when it comes to an employee, it’s important to not delay the conversation. If an employee suspects or knows a performance discussion is coming, they may take the time to consult a lawyer, alleging a legal wrong against them, or even take protected leave. If the meeting needs to be delayed for any reason, document why and when to ensure there is record should it be needed.

Before the meeting takes place, write out all of your necessary talking points. This will help you keep your thoughts in order and not get sidetracked during the conversation. You may also wish to provide a document to the employee so they can read over their appraisal just prior to discussing, giving them some time to understand what will be covered during the conversation.

During the Conversation

When it’s time to talk, ensure you are in a place to be respectful. If you are not in the right frame-of-mind for whatever reason, push it back until you feel you can have a productive conversation. The goal is to help improve the employee’s performance, but if all you end up doing is venting at the person, you’ll end up leaving them feeling defeated and shut down. Remember that you are wanting to attack the performance issue, not the person.

Once the meeting has started, do not start with small-talk. While it seems like a good ice breaker to discuss something going on in his or her personal life, it can too easily result in a discrimination claim. Acknowledge that it will be a difficult conversation, but that you want to help the person improve. Be sure to provide actual examples of work-related issues as general examples will only do so much. Showing concrete examples can help the employee see where things may have gone wrong and that the claims you’re making did in fact happen as opposed to a simple notion that you have something personal against them.

Don’t assume you know the intent of an employee’s performance, such as “you just aren’t trying.” The only thing you need to worry about is the results, because intent cannot be proven and it comes across as more of a personal attack than anything. Also, don’t bring up perceived reasons for why you think the employee is not performing as expected. An example would be saying something like, “have you been depressed about an event at home lately?” Instead, just be helpful in sharing that you want to see them succeed and that you are interested in what you can do to help them.

What Comes After the Meeting

Once you feel everything has been covered, don’t simply consider the meeting complete. Clearly discuss your expectations moving forward so there is mutual understanding, then set up a meeting in the near future to go over how the employee is performing based on those expectations. Any manager’s goal should be to help their employees succeed as it will in turn help the entire organization. Of course, if the underperforming employee is not improving with time and support, the best decision may be to let that person go, but effort should always be made to retain employees where possible.

No manager can take action without knowing what is going on with his or her team first. A great way to gauge current employees’ perceptions is by utilizing stay interviews when possible. These will provide you with insightful data to help find any problem areas that need to be addressed. If you have great employees leaving, be sure to use exit interviews, such as our ExitRight® survey, which may help you understand why great talent is choosing to leave the company, whether due to poorly-performing coworkers or other business-related issues. Knowing what is going on with your team and how to properly address issues will help you be a better manager and leader.

For more information or to schedule a demo of our survey products, contact us today.