Build or burn?

Managing poor performance

From time to time the performance of an employee falls below the minimum standard expected.  Let’s not beat about the bush.  The employee has to improve or be sacked.  If the manager seeks or tolerates a middle ground, then his or her performance has fallen below the minimum standard expected.

The most testing thing a manager has to do is manage poorly performing staff.  Some people simply won’t.  They avoid it.  Either they don’t know how to deal with the employee, or they don’t like conflict, or they think it’s hard-hearted and don’t want to be that sort of person.

It is indeed difficult, but not for the often-blamed reason that it takes time to go through the proper HR processes.  It should take time.  Employees need protected from summary dismissal by capricious bosses.  It’s a super-concentrated distillation of all the leadership skills.  It is just a difficult job, there’s no getting round it.  To manage poor performance successfully you need to be tougher than the employee.

Here is a summary of the type of tough nuts you will have to crack:

The terrorist.  Unlike all the other categories in this list, the terrorist actively works against the interests of the organisation.  You’d think the terrorist would simply get another job because you imagine they must hate theirs.  But a feature of the terrorist is that they don’t want to leave.  They may even believe their behaviour is ultimately in the best interests of the company.  Basically, they have a warped philosophy.

The teenager.  These people hang around at the back, mumbling dissent while looking around for allies.  With a black cloud over their heads, nothing seems good enough.  They are generally uncooperative, complaining and moody.

The old woman.  This person gets very anxious, frequently misjudging priorities, failing to get beyond small details.  He or she finds ambiguity so unsettling they sometimes, tragically, never find it in themselves to adjust to changes.

The old man.  Everything was better before.  Nothing new will work.  This person does not see the need to change.  He or she sometimes, tragically, gets so angry about changes they choose not to adjust.

The talker.  This person talks a good job but they are all talk and no trousers.  They know enough to sound credible but, deep down, they don’t really know what they’re doing, so they make up for it with a lot of networking and displacement activity.

The incompetent.  Sad to say, this person is out of their depth.  They may have been over-promoted, or they may have made a career mistake, but they simply don’t have the necessary skill for the job they are in.  Many people find themselves in this position for a time but the incompetent is characterised by a) not admitting it to themselves and others, b) not being able to learn, and c) not getting a new job.

The sloppy.  This person has low standards, perhaps a poor work ethic.  They do only what they are allowed to get away with.  They embody the opposite values to those of Total Quality.

The clock-watcher.  Sits, bags packed and coat on, a few minutes before going-home time.  Abuses the flexible working policies where they can.

The lazy.  This person goes at the slowest pace they can get away with.  They may hate their job and find it boring, but they are not willing to take on extra work to make it more interesting.

The late.  Rolls in whenever they want regardless of when their customers want them.

The inflexible.  Won’t go the extra mile.  Won’t offer support, or help out, even while colleagues are struggling.  Is reluctant to do anything they don’t feel is in their job description.

The mean.  Gossips, but not in a good way. Prone to be nice to your face and rude behind your back.

The copper-bottomed.  Thinks the company can’t or won’t get rid of the them and so ignores requests to change and carries on as they’ve always done.

The over-friendly.  A manager who can’t adjust to their leadership role.  Puts their desire to be liked above their desire to do their job.

The dad.  A manager who defends their staff no matter what they’ve done.  They mistakenly believe it is their job to do so, and think their staff will like them for it.

I challenge you to say you haven’t worked with someone who fits one of these descriptions.  If you are a line manager faced with one of these hard cases, fear not.  I’ve found that initiating disciplinary procedures always leads to a binary outcome.  Either the employee’s performance immediately improves and everything is forgotten or, eventually, the person leaves.

If you are finding it difficult to steel yourself to deal with a poor performer, ask yourself ‘Is it fair these behaviours go unchecked?  Is it fair the company continues to pay a full salary to someone who doesn’t want to play by the rules involved in earning it?  Is it fair on the persons colleagues who must carry a heavier load as a result?  Look into your heart.  If the answer is ‘No’, you know what you have to do.

View all blog articles