Are You to Blame For Your “Poor Performers”?

Dealing with “poor performers” is one issue that everyone secretly wishes they could avoid because, in most cases, it means having to be the “bad guy.”

No one wants to do it.

No one wants to tell someone else that they are not performing up to expectations.

No one wants to tell someone else that they have a negative attitude and its affecting others.

No one wants to tell someone that they may no longer be a fit for the organization.

But, we have to do it….or they will never improve and others will begin to suffer.

Part of the issue that most leaders have with starting this conversation stems from the assumption that this person already knows there is a problem.  They assume their poor performance is a result of a bad attitude, lack of desire to do their job anymore or lack of desire to learn what they can do to improve.  Did you ever stop to think that maybe they don’t realize they aren’t performing well?

In today’s economic environment, we have a lot of people trying to juggle multiple tasks (personal and professional) and multiple stresses all at the same time.  Their minds are focused on how to improve their lives or their problems so may not be 100% focused on the tasks at hand anymore.  Some may be so burnt out from their other responsibilities overwhelming them that they have become robotic in carrying out their daily duties – just going through the motions without realizing if they are doing something wrong or even slow.

When we, as leaders, avoid having such conversations as soon as the problem starts to show itself, we are actually adding to their struggles and potential failures.  Simply put: if we don’t tell someone they are doing something wrong and how to correct it, they won’t think they have a problem.

This comes right to the core of what it is to “be a leader.”

But, that does not mean we only address their short-comings or issues.  We must also offer suggestions and solutions for them to improve.  They, in most cases, won’t know what to do or what the company expects to see to call it “improvement.”

The worst comment I have heard from “leaders” when faced with a problem performer is “we just need to replace them.”  I am the first one to come back with “have you told them there is a problem and how are you working with them to correct it?”  Replacing or terminating a person should not be the first reaction a leader has – if they do, they shouldn’t be in a leadership position.  When I hear comments like that, my focus on the problem has now switched from the “problem performer” to the “leader.”

So before you make any speculation about whether the poor performer should be “trained, transferred, or terminated?”…you need to first have a conversation with the individual.

Use it as an opportunity to state that you have “concerns” about their performance and/or interaction with others – don’t start off accusing them of poor performance.  Remember – accusations put on a person on the defense and the rest of the conversation becomes an uphill battle, if not a heated one.  You cannot be concerned with “loosing a friend” or “gossip” as a result of having this blunt conversation.  When you start doing that, you stop being a leader.

If you avoid the conversation or hope the person will improve all on their own, you not only risk this person causes more issues or developing a severely negative attitude, but you also risk the damage it will do to others.  Not only will others begin to have a negative attitude from having to interact with this person, but YOU will loose creditability in their eyes because, as their leader, it was your job to address and handle it. While we can point to all kinds of possible reasons for low morale, this is probably one of the biggest contributors to the problem…it most directly affects everyone’s day-to-day interactions which is why it is imperative that it not go ignored.

You also have to accept the possibility that, as time has passed and things/people have changed, this person just may not be a fit for your department or organization anymore.  Its part of growth and change not just within organizations but with a person’s personal growth as well.   They won’t be the same person they were when they first joined and if they haven’t adapted to the changes around them, or even refuse to change, then it is in everyone’s best interest to tell them its time to part ways.

Bottom line: Open up a conversation with anyone you feel is a poor performer but from the angle that you have concerns and not accusations before you develop any outcome in your head.  Go in with an open mind and let the conversation guide you to the solution.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not of The HR Gazette or its team members.

Author: Barb Buckner

Over 15 years of experience as a strategic Human Resource Professional with a proven history of implementing HR strategies and managing employee relations, process improvement and compliance. A reputation for leveraging business relationships, engaging the workforce and creating a positive return on investment into HR initiatives.

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