Addressing Poor Performers – Ending The Supervisor’s Nightmare – Professional Growth Systems

Addressing Poor Performers – Ending The Supervisor’s Nightmare

Poor performers are the stuff of nightmares. Literally. I have had dreams about my staff. In one recurring dream I try to have a conversation with a team leader to address a critical failure. However, when I try to talk, for one reason or another, the words are inaudible. The result is me pointing out the target expectations to the team as I watch them fail in real time over and over until I wake up.

This dream is a great metaphor for what managers and supervisors experience in the real world. Someone you supervise is consistently underperforming. They are not getting the job done, and you can’t seem to move the needle. You take a step forward in one area and then step back in another, never raising the bar. The worst of these offenders aren’t bad enough for you to terminate; however, they are not good enough for you to trust their work consistently.

There are a number of ways to address these issues. In the following blog series, I will address some major themes and provide you some tips, or action items, to get you on a path to success improving performance on your team. The suggestions to follow come from years of experience teaching people how to supervise, motivate, and coach people using the Question Method™.  Applying one or all the suggestions will improve your results.

This first set of tips is for the manager who is simply stuck and has not confronted the employee. For this situation, the tips focus on getting into action:

  • Confront the Nightmare: The first necessary step every leader needs to take is accept something is, or isn’t, happening and take steps to address it.
  • Trust your intuition: First and foremost. You are in a management role because you have demonstrated capability. Do not ignore your instincts. It won’t just get better.
  • Don’t be ok with ok performance: We often go too long knowing something isn’t right, but not acting on our intuition. This most often occurs with people who aren’t horrible but aren’t getting the job done. This is also allowed most often at the beginning of an employee’s working experience with a new supervisor. Set the stage immediately if something isn’t quite right and take action to make it better. If you have already let someone slide for years and are at the end of your patience with them – it’s not too late take action. Start immediately.
  • Organize your thoughts: Do not enter performance conversations directionless and/or without clear data and expectations. Take a moment to prepare yourself for any interaction. Set a goal for the interaction (e.g. identify an item you need clarity on, establish expectation you want to set, and think about the feedback you want to give).
  • Examine your intentions: Ask yourself the following questions: if you could create any future you wanted, what would the ideal result look like? Do you believe the employee is capable of meeting or exceeding your expectations? Do understand the situation or do you have uncertainties – if you have uncertainties what are they? It is important to enter performance situations with a clear end in mind. Supervisors are often placed in the role of judge and executioner (or trophy presenter). Your role should be to coach the team and share in the rewards. If you examine your intentions and feel strongly that you can make a positive change, your cause is just and your success is possible. If you do not believe positive change is in the future, begin a new direction with this employee – help them find a better fit for themselves within or without your company.

An important side note. Poor performers can be either “Can’t Do” or “Won’t Do” employees, and that is an important distinction to make as you prepare to address a lack of performance head on. A “Can’t Do” employee actually wants to do a better job, but doesn’t have what he needs in information, training, authority, etc. to do good work. A “Won’t Do” employee knows the expectations and has the training and authority, but simply isn’t interested or able to do good work for a myriad of reasons. Making that distinction sets the course for your conversation. For more on that, check out this post.  or visit Bill Dann’s Question Method website for more comprehensive tools for supervision.