Disciplining poor performers is among the most dreaded tasks for many managers. It’s usually tense, unpleasant and fraught with conflict.
But if you prepare carefully, document performance issues thoroughly and communicate forthrightly with substandard workers, the disciplinary process becomes far easier, says Cass Wheeler, retired chief executive officer of the American Heart Association. Wheeler, an executive coach and speaker in Georgetown, Texas, wrote You’ve Gotta Have Heart.
Managing People at Work talks to Wheeler:
MPAW: In your 11 years as CEO, I’m sure you disciplined many employees. Did you dread it?
Wheeler: Not really. I’ve found that you have to define superior performance and discipline poor performers. You have to keep score clearly so that people know what they’re accountable for.
MPAW: But employees may not buy in to their performance plan.
Wheeler: I think managers have an ethical responsibility to explain the plan and conduct semiannualto track the employee’s progress. Employees will buy in if they know the three to five measurable performance standards that you’re tracking.
MPAW: Most managers already do that, right?
Wheeler: When I talk to groups of employees, I’ll ask, “How many of you had performance standards in your last job?” A few raise their hands. Then I say, “Actually, you all did. But only the ones who raised their hands knew the standards.”
MPAW: What did you say to discipline a poor performer?
Wheeler: You have to empathize. I’d say, “As we’ve discussed, you’re not hitting your numbers. We need to take corrective action by March 1 or re-evaluate our relationship.” Then I’d ask, “Shall we identify those corrective actions?”
MPAW: How did your employees respond?
Wheeler: They weren’t surprised because we had already talked about their lack of performance. They understood my expectations and the standards we set for their position. If you have common definitions for what constitutes acceptable (and superior) performance, then it’s easier for poor performers to recognize how they need to improve.