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All companies have a large investment—time and money—in their human capital. A company would never hesitate to fix a machine, repair a plant or improve a work site, so why not treat human assets the same way?

Yet, in many cases, a quick termination is the end result and the loss of a valuable human asset.

The key to correcting performance problems is a collaborative effort between a supervisor and an employee. It’s not the responsibility of the HR department.      

The HR function can only provide programs and policies, but managers must be the company’s first line of defense in providing leadership.

A fundamental flaw in the psychology of performance improvement is that the employee alone is to blame for his or her failures. And as a result, the employee alone should also be made responsible for correcting them.

The following is a simple set of steps managers can take to effectively address employee performance problems:

Step 1: Conduct an informal meeting with the employee to determine the cause of the performance issue—attitudinal, lack of training, insufficient resources, etc. Be prepared to deal with facts and personal observations, not accusations.

Step 2: Discuss and formulate a course of action with the employee and a timetable for assessing performance. Set key benchmarks for improvement over a reasonable time frame. Make a written record of the plan for both parties to follow. Include a copy in the employee’s personnel records in the event of any future legal action.

Step 3: Managers should be active participants
in the process with commitments (when possible) to provide additional training, fiscal and/or capital resources or other tools that will assist in correcting performance. Conduct frequent feedback sessions to measure progress and adjust the plan as needed.

Step 4: If performance problems are based on attitude, managers should seek advice from HR or a company employee assistance program (EAP). 

Step 5: Consider a nonmonetary award (e.g., gift cards, tickets) if the employee’s performance returns to acceptable levels.

In sum, the resolution of performance issues is a joint responsibility of both the supervisor and the employee. Ignoring problems can only lead to unsatisfactory outcomes. 

Ron Pilenzo, Ph.D., SPHR, is the CEO of The Global HR Consultancy and has more than 50 years’ HR and executive experience with several Fortune 100 companies. He is a retired president of the Society for Human Resource Management.

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