How Do You Deal With Poor Employee Performance?

By David Mizne

You’re fired!

Unless you are sadistic or Donald Drumpf, those are two words that no employee wants to hear and no manager wants to say. Yet every day employees are terminated for failing to live up to the express or implied expectations of management.

Don’t be too quick to drop the axe. There are many reasons why employee performance suffers, and you need to assess the problem first.  Ask yourself, “Is the underperformance due to a lack of ability or lack of motivation? Did I give this employee everything he needed to do his job and contribute to the growth of the company?”

After some digging, you may be surprised to find that the employee’s failures are due to something beyond lack of skill or drive, and that remediation is far better (and less costly) than termination.

The disposable employee

In June, Karachi-Electric fired 53 people because of poor progress and employee performance. Like most companies, KE monitors performance throughout the year and uses that information as the determining factor in offering raises or promotions, or sending people packing.

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A KE spokesman stated that “before firing any employee, [KE] always gives time to that particular person to improve his quality of services and deliver as per the need of the company. However, if they fail to cope with the situation then the management uses its right to hire other new and competent persons rather than continue with same old and incompetent staff.”

Nice one KE! I wouldn’t be surprised if that statement makes people feel disposable and hence a lot less motivated to meet your expectations. My 15Five question for you is, What are you doing to support your employees?

It’s fantastic that you are “generously” allotting them time to improve before sending their families to the food lines. But have you asked for regular feedback and responded with support? Have you motivated them by acknowledging their triumphs? Have you checked in with them to see if they have everything they need to do their jobs, including a clear explanation of goals?

If you hired 53 people who were so incompetent or lazy that no amount of training or mentoring could have helped them, that sounds like an issue with your screening process for new applicants.  However, the more likely possibility is that you could have rehabilitated nearly all of those people by asking for regular feedback and responding to it in a way that would facilitate improvement.

Money makes your org go round

Firing an employee should be a last resort, if for no other reason than the financial impact. I don’t know about Pakistan, but the average cost of recruiting, hiring, and training an American employee is over $4,000.

Before you throw thousands of dollars down the drain, try asking them what the problem is and then follow up with your own investigations. Employees may be genuinely incapable of performing at a level that is acceptable to the organization, and termination may be the only answer. Alternatively, there may be a simple remedy that will get them back on track.

Get to the root of the problem

According to Mindtools, it is pointless to offer a remedy without diagnosing the problem to see the cause.  For them, poor employee performance is a factor of both ability and motivation.

A person’s ability does not just mean what the employee is capable of but also the training and resources supplied by the organization. Turn the lens inward and see if you can improve your methods for teaching employees how to do their jobs or if you can reposition them in a different department.

1. Ask employees if they need more resources. See where they feel stuck or frustrated. Once you discover whether the issue results, you can offer additional training, offer new methods of motivation, and then begin to acknowledge improvement over time.

2. Some employees have been assigned to responsibilities that do not resonate with their skills and abilities. If there is a position elsewhere, it may be worthwhile to test the fit of the underperformer in a new role.

Goal orientation

You might have highly capable people who are not performing because of a lack of motivation. That is also an organization’s responsibility. When morale is low or people don’t feel a sense of purpose in their work, leadership can step in to turn it around.

In his book Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi discusses the many ways that we can find enjoyment in any task so long as certain conditions are met. Not only must we be able to concentrate on our work but there must be clearly established goals and immediate feedback.

Our motivations to work with focus and purpose often come from within, but they are also dependent on our managers and leaders clearly explaining what needs to be done and providing feedback that the job was indeed done well.

You can’t just provide training and then walk away to see what will happen. What you call poor performance from your employees may just be a reflection of your own inability to lead.

Sometimes you have no alternative but to let the employee go. But, by regularly asking employees questions, you can discover where they are struggling, and offer support. Not only will you save money on replacing an employee, you will preserve morale throughout your organization. Perhaps most importantly, you will achieve the deep satisfaction that comes from mentoring an employee and lighting their path to achieving their highest potential.

Image Source: DonkeyHotey

David is Content Manager at 15Five, a lightweight weekly check-in that delivers a full suite of integrated tools – including continuous employee feedback, objective tracking (OKRs), pulse surveys, and peer recognition. Follow him on Twitter @davidmizne.


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