Monday January 19, 2015
Most employers know that they should address employee performance and behavior problems. Few do. Many save up discussions about problems until some annual review and then dump it on employees who thought everything was fine. Many save up frustrations with performance until they just can’t tolerate it anymore, and then find some convenient way of getting rid of the problem employee such as a reorganization. Either of those are passive-aggressive behaviors on the part of the boss.
Some bosses don’t know how to do this well. Getting a form off the internet or from some other source can be flat; you still have a 3-dimensional flesh and blood person to deal with. But avoiding confrontation sends a message to all employees that you are either condoning the performance or behavior, or are clueless.
Like anything else in business, there is a skill that can be developed. It only will be developed if it’s practiced. Practice makes perfect.
Here are some pointers to use when addressing performance and behavior problems with employees:
Consider all options. Corrective action should be one of the many tools you have as a supervisor. When you wield it too frequently it will look like that’s the only way you know how to motivate performance; when you avoid it, it looks like you are either condoning the behavior or are clueless.
Treat it as corrective action. If this is a first discussion, treat it as a course adjustment rather than something punitive. It will change the way you frame and discuss the issue. Your goal isn’t to get rid of the employee or punish her; it’s performance improvement.
Give yourself time to hear. Don’t do all the talking. Present the problem, being clear about what’s expected and ask the employee if she is aware of it or has any thoughts she’d like to share.
Give yourself time to process. You could hear something that you did not know. That could change things. You could also sense that you and/or the employee are getting too defensive. So take a short break, or if needed, buy a day. Agree to reconvene at a specific time so that both of you can have time to consider what’s been said.
Reconvene. If you postpone beyond a day, you lose ground, or worse, you drop the ball. When you do reconvene, you will need to be clear and decisive.
Be clear about repercussions of continued problems. Don’t limit your organization. If termination is a possibility you are better off saying something like, “Repeated incidents may lead to further disciplinary action, up to and including termination.” If the repercussion is something less - such as some kind of limitation or loss of privilege - state that. The latter works when the issue is not something that you would part ways over.
Reenlist. Leave the employee with his dignity and value intact by making it clear that you want him, just not the performance or behavior problem that brought about this conversation. This does two things – it helps him see that he has a role to play and a job to do, and it makes it clear that his performance and behavior is entirely up to him. If there is a second conversation it will be a consequence of his behavior or performance; not because you don’t like him.
Reengage. Once you’ve been clear about what needs to change, ask the employee to give it some thought and come back to you with her ideas for improvement. Let her be in charge of creating her game plan. Give her the weekend to think about it, but set a meeting time early the next week. What the employee comes back with will tell you how seriously she is taking the discussion. You are after specifics so that you won’t need a second performance discussion. If she creates it and buys in, her chances of success increase.
Reenvision. Focus back on the vision of the organization. Help the employee see his role in the big picture and what things can look like with immediate and sustained improvement.
Second performance discussion. If it’s a second or third performance discussion, it’s time to make it clear that continued issues will result in termination. Make sure the employee knows her job is on the line. There should be no surprises if you have to part ways.
And then if you have to part ways, do so.
I help organizations have these kinds of critical discussions, coaching managers in the background or facilitating meetings with employees. When things don't improve, I help organizations sever the employment relationship with as minimal risk and as much dignity as possible. This helps the affected employee move on with his life focused on the future rather than tethered to the past. Contact me if you need help with any employee relations matter.
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