Confronting poor performers: 6 tips for managers
No manager enjoys having “the talk” with employees. But ignoring an employee’s poor performance won’t make the problem go away; it’ll only make things worse.
If you’re apt to take the head-in-the-sand approach to employees’ job failings, you’re not alone: Only 31 percent of U.S. workers agree with the statement “My manager confronts poor performance,” according to a KEYGroup survey.
And companies that tolerate poor performance will drive away top performers who are unhappy working in such an environment.
The solution: Approach workers about their performance problems in a fair, problem-solving manner. When you confront such people in a tactful way, you’ll find that one of two things happens: They improve or they move.
According to the KEYGroup, here are the six rules of engagement:
1. Be specific
If an employee has been consistently late, specify the number of times or amount of time. Avoid exaggerations, such as “You are totally unreliable.” Instead, say, “This is the third time in one week that you have been at least 10 minutes late.”
If this issue has been a problem in the past, remind the employee when you have pointed out the offense previously. Say, “I indicated to you last Tuesday that coming in late is not acceptable.”
2. Focus on business reasons
Always refocus the employee on the stated business reason for your comments. Example: “It’s important for you to be here at the designated time since customers rely on our immediate responsiveness when they have questions about their orders.”
If you need to correct something like inappropriate casual dress, reiterate the company guidelines. Don’t comment on the employee’s personal taste. Straying into areas that have nothing to do with workplace performance will result in a loss of credibility with that person. Stay focused on the employee’s job performance and how it affects the company.
3. Give timely feedback
A common management mistake is to bombard employees with feedback at their appraisal, but remain mostly quiet during the rest of the year. The appraisal should be a review of the discussions held during the year. Nothing mentioned at that time should come as a surprise to the employee.
That’s why it’s vital to provide all employees with both positive and negative feedback on a consistent basis.
Poor performers require more feedback, not less. Make them aware of what they did wrong immediately.
One caveat: Don’t try to give corrective feedback when the person is upset or emotional. Wait until the employee has calmed down.
4. Consider the employee’s personality
Everyone handles feedback differently. Some people want it straight while others are more sensitive. With an employee who wants straightforward feedback, you can get away with saying, “You gave the customer the wrong information because you didn’t have the updated manual. How do you think we should handle it?”
To get through to a more sensitive employee, take a different approach. For instance, “I understand why you provided the customer with this information. Are you aware that the guidelines have changed? What do you suggest we do in this situation?”
Regardless of the person’s personality, be clear and straightforward in your communication.
5. Check for understanding
Avoid asking close-ended questions during the discussion or when summarizing. At the end of a confrontation, don’t ask, “Do you understand?” The employee could simply say “Yes.”
Instead, ask the employee to summarize his understanding of the situation. Have him lay out actions, steps or accountabilities that were discussed.
6. Keep a paper trail of discussions
Good documentation, such as a performance log for each employee, allows you to easily identify and prove recurring problems. (This could also help if the employee decides to sue.)
After each meeting with the poor performer, take notes that summarize the discussions. Include the problem, the action taken to correct or eliminate it, the dates, the result that occurred, and any comments that will help you recall feedback sessions when you complete the performance appraisal.
Don’t let the performance log become a little black book of mistakes and errors. Also include examples of acceptable and/or outstanding performance.
Giving employee feedback: It’s as easy as A, B, C
Accurate. Offer objective, concrete descriptions of the problem, not vague statements. Provide specific examples and dates, backed by documentation. Avoid words like “always” and “never”; they’re exaggerations and don’t usually reflect realistic frequency.
Business-oriented. Focus on the business reason for the corrective comments. Stay away from personality critiques. Be able to point to written employee goals and company guidelines that aren’t being met.
Consistent. Provide regular feedback throughout the year; don’t dump it all on the employee at performance review time. Include what was done, the impact and how it will be eliminated (negative) or repeated (positive) in the future.