One of the most difficult parts of leadership is dealing with non-performing people. You have to do the difficult, painful work of discussing an employee’s shortcomings and then figuring out how to fix them.
Here are ten things a smart leader will not neglect when handling a non-performing employee.
1. They assess the long-term work habits of the employee.
There’s a big difference between an employee who consistently does not meet performance standards, and a good employee who has hit a slump. A good leader will be sure to look at each employee, and each employee’s situation, individually.
Use metrics, past reports, and work performance history, plus your own personal experience with the employee, to determine if you’re dealing with a consistent non-performer or with a stressful, unfocused, or overloaded time that is keeping a good, performing employee from doing well.
2. They listen first and talk later.
A good leader doesn’t assume that he or she knows the underlying causes of the non-performance. It’s time to call a meeting and listen. You may think you know the cause or frustration or bad habits, but until you hear it from your employee, you really can’t be sure.
Sit down with your employee and ask how work is going. Ask for frustrations. Ask about problems. Ask about progress. Find out if your employee is aware of the performance issues or not.
3. They share specific problems and examples.
A smart leader knows that generic feedback is only going to frustrate and confuse a non-performing employee. Chances are that your non-performer is already overwhelmed and unsure of how to improve. Simply throwing out feedback like, “You really need to do better,” or, “Let’s make sure this next quarter is better than the last,” does not provide any specific, practical steps for your employee to take.
Instead, share specific ways that you want your employee to change and improve. Provide hard numbers for specific areas of responsibility so that your employee knows exactly what you are looking for and whether he or she is close to the goal.
4. They keep track of progress.
A smart leader knows that a single meeting or talk is not going to be enough to change old habits. If your employee has a long-term tendency to not live up to standards, it’s going to take time and ongoing help to change those habits.
In order to provide the right kind of help, you need to know what progress your employee is making and where he or she is still falling short. Keep track of the numbers and the performances in the specific areas you’ve given the employee to work on. The ones that are still below standards will show you where you need to step in and provide further help and instruction.
5. They encourage.
Encouragement is important, especially when an employee is working hard to overcome old, bad habits or a stressful situation or particularly heavy workload. As you keep track of the progress your employee is making – or not making – look for areas where you can provide encouragement.
Encouragement is different than praise. Praise is a positive response to something already done or completed: “Great job on that report!” Encouragement is a positive response to something being done, something in progress: “You’re making good progress and I know that report is going to be great.”
6. They deal with the employee’s concerns.
A smart leader does not ignore the issues that an employee brings up. Instead, a good leader will examine the issues and determine what needs to be fixed or changed.
In your initial meeting with your non-performing employee, what were the problems, frustrations, or issues that he or she mentioned? Don’t blow them off as rantings of a lazy employee. Spend some time checking into things, and find out if the problems are real and how they can be solved.
7. They follow up regularly.
A good leader does not leave a troubled employee alone to figure out what should happen next. Since your employee is struggling, a regular check-in to talk about problems and progress is important.
Your employee needs to know that you’re there to help and you’re also not going to forget and let them slide back into old habits. A regular follow-up meeting will allow you to give encouragement, to let your employee know you’re dealing with problems and issues, and to talk about how to keep improving in areas where progress is lacking.
8. They motivate.
A smart leader knows that sometimes self-motivation just isn’t possible. If your employee is dealing with personal issues, or feels overwhelmed by what is required of him or her, you need to help provide some motivation.
What does your employee care about? Is it money? More vacation days? More flexibility? Peer recognition? The opportunity to work on more intriguing projects? Find out what really gets your employee excited, and then help him or her see how improving performance can allow those things to happen. Sometimes we all need a dangling carrot to help us keep going forward.
9. They bring in training and resources.
A good leader will not leave an untrained or lacking employee alone to figure it out. Doing so will not only delay the performance you need, but will also frustrate and discourage your employee.
Sometimes you have great people who are willing to do the work, but simply are not equipped to do it. If there is training that needs to happen, schedule a time and place and qualified person to make it happen. If there are missing resources, or too few resources, do what you can to bring in more so that there are adequate supplies, tools, and knowledge for the job to be done.
10. They know when to end it.
A smart leader does not avoid the inevitable. If you have worked with your employee, provided what is needed, dealt with the issues, and given good, specific feedback and follow-up, what’s left? If the employee is still not willing or able to perform, it might be time to end the working relationship.
It’s never fun to let someone go from a job, but if your employee is not fitted or interested in doing the work, you’re doing no one a favor by extending the employment. Free your employee – and yourself – to move on and make progress, even if that means parting ways.
Featured photo credit: Open Box via flickr.com