How to deal with poor performance
In my role as a leadership coach there are a few key questions I get asked over and over. They are all presented in a slightly different way, but the themes are the same.
This is one area that so many people shy away from and then live to regret it. Or worse still, they encourage that person to apply for a job in another department thereby simply moving the problem.
So why is that we hold back? Is it for fear of challenge? "It's not fair, everyone else does it? Or" It wasn't my fault." "I didn't know that's what you wanted." "Why should I care?"
The first question I ask here is "How do you know their performance is poor?"
That sounds like an odd question, but what I mean is we need to quantify it. What is the gap? What is the performance being compared to or measured against? So this raises the question – are your expectations or standards clear, and have they been communicated? If you get the comment like, "That wasn't my fault – I was told the wrong things" or "I didn't know that" be prepared to draw a line in the sand and establish what is expected in future.
What is communicated goes beyond the laid down procedures or standards; what precedent has been set by others, or even the way you do things? So avoid "What about them, they're not perfect" by ensuring there are no mixed messages, one rule for one and another rule for everyone else!
In what way has their performance fallen short? Focus on the facts, not on hearsay or on subjective assessment. Phrases such as "bad attitude" or "poor team player" are intangible – what are the things the employee says or does that give the impression of the bad attitude or poor team player. Be prepared to back this up with specific examples, and ideally ones you've observed or heard first hand, opposed to the 'tell-tale' feedback from others, which will never carry the same weight, and often ends up with the comment "I bet I know who said that". The more specific the examples you are able to give the less you will be challenged.
When there are several areas of poor performance it's tempting to try and address everything in one meeting. The result is total overwhelm and demotivation. You are unlikely to see an improvement. Of course in an ideal world you would nip problems in the bud and avoid having to address multiple issues, but there may be times when you inherit problems and it's a challenge to know where to start. Identify which area of performance or behaviour would have the most impact if it was improved. Then concentrate on this one first. You might find a knock effect on others, but if not you can address those one by one once you see improvements in the key area.
The next question is why is their performance poor?
We might first ask if this person has ever carried out the job in hand to standard. If not then maybe there is a training need. Or are we certain the person is capable?
Do they understand why the standard is there and needs to be adhered to? Without recognising the consequences of poor performance or a different approach it may seem easier to cut corners or do it 'their way'.
On the other hand if they've done the job before perfectly OK, or even done the job for years and you've now seem a drop in performance ask why now? You may need to guard against the excuses, but in many cases there are some very legitimate reasons why something has slipped. Are they up against time pressures due to staff shortages or extra workload; has the equipment got a fault, or ingredients of poor quality; has there been a bottleneck in the system which has had a knock on effect; are there other factors at play such as guests' requests or complaints?
If none of the above and it's down to a lack of willingness or effort on their part, what has led to this? Without understanding the reasons you are unlikely to be able to influence a change. Maybe they've simply lost interest, or had a knock to their confidence. Maybe they don't feel their contribution is recognised or valued. It may be down to a lack of concentration, and if so, what is distracting them? You won't get answers to these questions unless you are prepared to sit down and ask the questions, and be prepared to listen to the answers.
Finally think about how to move forward. Throw away comments such as "you need to pull your socks up" will be unlikely to do much to aid any improvement. What specifically needs to happen next? Obviously this will be dependent on the shortfall and the reasons for it. If down to systems, equipment, guest's expectations, time pressure, etc. do whatever necessary to avoid the same thing happening again. In some cases this might involve training or coaching on how to deal with these one off situations, but recognise when it is a management responsibility.
If a lack of confidence, what support or help do they need to build the confidence? Who from and over what time scales? If they go away thinking "There's no way I can change" the chances are they won't. Your role is to get a plan in place to make that change and show your confidence in their ability to do so.
If a lack of motivation on their part, what needs to happen to get their enthusiasm or willingness back? Ask the employee for their input on what needs to happen to achieve better performance; they'll be far more committed to the outcome if they've had an opportunity to influence what happens next. And if they need support from you or others demonstrate your willingness to provide it; they need to leave the meeting feeling positive and willing to do whatever needs to be done.
Consider your approach to the whole meeting. Deliver bad news in a non-critical way, and be mindful of your pitch and tone so that valuable information is not seen as a complaint, criticism, whinge or nag.
By focusing on facts you be able to remain more neutral and preserve the other person's self-esteem. Give praise where it is due, but be direct about the poor performance; don't sugar coat the message. And if you need to see improvements ensure this message is clear, and that you demonstrate its importance by setting and adhering to review dates.