As appealing as it may be to “be the boss,” there are downsides. A significant concern for every employer is addressing employee performance issues. It’s never an easy conversation, and no one, employer or employee, is in the best position emotionally. No one ever wants to face the prospect of letting an employee go. Thankfully, that road is a final option. Addressing concerns right away and head-on is always your best first step. Our goal is to prepare and empower this employee to improve, thus saving unnecessary turnover. Consider the following actions; four of them precede the termination consideration.
Meet immediately and with discretion
If you notice issues with an employee, it’s essential to address them as soon as possible; do not wait several weeks or months for an annual review or until the problem has gotten so bad that you are ready to blow your top! As soon as you start noticing a problem, set a meeting for that week or, even better, that day. A word of caution – no hallway chats here! Public reprimands are demeaning and generally ineffective. It’s essential to be discreet; set a private meeting behind a closed door (or on a dedicated Zoom call). Face to face is always best, but a phone call is acceptable in a pinch. Utilize back and forth communications to collaborate on corrective actions. Avoid email as a misunderstanding, and worse, a misconstruction is too opportune there. If your employees trust you to provide timely feedback privately, they will feel more empowered and own their improvements when the time comes.
If the problem persists beyond informal feedback meetings, it’s time to formalize the process and craft a documented performance improvement plan.
This one is a biggie; when you provide formalized feedback to an employee, DOCUMENT EVERYTHING. Save it on your computer and in hard copy. Include date and time of feedback, meeting attendees, description of misconduct, manager feedback, identified consequences, and subsequent action steps. Include your and your employee’s signatures. You, your employee, and any other meeting attendees should receive a hard copy. This documentation is essential should they pursue legal action against you for their firing. Showing repeated efforts to improve employee performance will help demonstrate that the separation was lawful and unavoidable. It also helps the employee keep track of their progress throughout their determined improvement period.
Keep it specific, factual, and unemotional.
You’ve set the meeting—whether formal or informal—and now you’re face to face with this employee. You are about to deliver news that no one wants to hear; they aren’t meeting your expectations. How and where do you start? It’s essential not to get emotional; stick with the facts. Come prepared to the meeting with specific circumstances that demonstrate the concerns you’re addressing—yelling, swearing, and blaming are not the way to go here. Please keep it simple, succinct, and avoid unrelated tangents and irrelevant conversation points; you’re here to present facts about the problem at hand.
Also, present the solution as a team, indicating that resolution is a “we” issue. For example, queries like, “How can we do better on this moving forward?” will help the employee feel more supported and empowered to change. It also reminds them that their mistakes impact the entire team.
Feedback is reciprocal
As a manager, you will have already looked for process issues or other failure points outside the employee’s control. There is, however, another possibility that you should consider. Your employee may expose confusion with the direction you are providing or any number of other legitimate external factors. When you talk to this employee, it’s vital to request and be open to honest feedback before you enter the solution stage. Don’t allow the employee to make excuses, but hear and note all valid reasons this employee feels unable to meet benchmarks. It will not be unheard of or unique to look inward, pursue additional education and training, or revisit your processes. However, an inability to take in and consider feedback reciprocally can cost you a valuable employee.
Know when to let go
Unfortunately, there will come a time when even after repeated attempts to correct behavior, proper training, documented performance reviews, an employee is just not going to meet your needs. An underperforming employee puts undue stress on your other team members, ultimately weakening your team. A team is, after all, only as good as its weakest player. It can also cause burnout and resentment amongst your A-team players, reducing overall job satisfaction. Therefore, you need to release inadequate employees promptly. Know when this time is and stick to it. Letting a weak employee continue to infect your team will only cause the rot to spread. It’s for the betterment of your entire business to part ways.
Call for assistance
If you’re struggling with chronically underperforming team members or often feel that the new hires you make are continuously inadequate, it may be time to partner with a business coach. Business coaching can help you evaluate your processes and protocols and your team individually and in whole identify weaknesses and help develop an action plan towards improvements. In addition, having an unbiased, licensed professional coach give your business an evaluation with your unique growth goals in mind can be transformative.