How to work with under performers?

Attila Ovari's ShadowI meet up with a start up entrepreneur the other week about how to motivate under performing staff. This article is a summary of some of that discussion. I believe that managing underperforming staff starts with the organisation’s Vision, Mission and Values. It starts with the purpose of the organisation.

Once the organisation has defined its purpose and where it is going, then the organisation needs to ensure that it has the right people to achieve its purpose. So who are the right people? The right people are people that are aligned with the purpose of the organisation (vision, mission and values), have or are developing the skills required for their role and have a good work ethic.

So we have a purpose for the organisation and we have people in the organisation, how do we lead them? Firstly we need to build an organisation strategy from the purpose of the organisation. We then can develop the KPIs or objectives for each team and individual in the organisation that through the strategic plan align with the purpose of the organisation.

So now we have a organisational purpose, a purpose for each team and a purpose for each individual that are all aligned. As a leader our role is to ensure that the team and the individuals within those teams are inspired and stay motivated in their purpose. We do this through communication, gratitude for their work, providing guidance for improvement and feedback.

So feedback for team members can and should be both for the good work that they are doing and also for their areas of improvement. This feedback needs to be provided regularly and in accordance with their roles KPIs and objectives which are linked to both the team and organisational KPIs and objectives.

So what happens when there is an under performer on your team?

Firstly, an under performer is going to impact on the whole team and the work culture of the organisation. So it is important that under performers are dealt with asap. So why do people underperform? There are many reasons… These reasons include non alignment to the organisation’s purpose, change of personal priorities, personal issues, etc….

The reason is not that important, it is more important that we enable the person to either improve performance or leave the team. I do this with a meeting with the person. The aim of this first meeting is to either get an agreement from the individual about improving their performance or to leave the team.

In the meeting I explain their behaviours, performance or observations that are of concern. Then I ask the person what the reason is for this underperformance… And then I listen.The person may answer in one of three ways. Firstly they may agree, secondly they may get defensive or thirdly they may go left field.

If they agree that they are underperforming then we discuss whether they want to stay on the team or move on. If they stay we develop a plan for them to get back on track and come to an agreement that termination may result if the plan is not followed. If they get defensive then it may be a case that they are not the right fit for the role. If they are not willing to develop a plan to get back on track then termination may be the best option.

If there is other reasons that are going to get in the way of them getting on track, such as personal and family reasons, then it may be a case of leading them to get help for this and working out arrangements in the meantime to give them some space from the work in order to deal with their personal issues. After which performance can be relooked at.

So what happens after the meeting if the person is not meeting the requirements of the plan? What happens if performance still does not meet the requirements of their role? Well then it would mean that the role is not the right role for them. It means that the best thing to do is move them out of the role, whether that is inside the organisation or outside.

Many managers struggle with letting people go. They want to give people another chance and another chance. However, if the requirements of the role are reasonable and the person is unable to do that role then the best thing for that person is to find another role that they are better suited too. It is better for them, the organisation and you as their leader.
First Published on LinkedIn on 29 January 2016

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