“You may not want to take as extreme an approach as former GE executive Jack Welch — annually discharging the bottom 10 percent of the workforce — but small-business managers cannot put off confronting an underperforming employee.”
Talking to an underperforming employee ranks right up there with telling your significant other that he or she is not pulling their weight in a relationship. Not something you really look forward to; but if you don’t nip the situation in the bud early, it will fester until it reaches ugly proportions. You need to handle the situation directly, and tactfully. A boyfriend or girlfriend may get mad if you handle the situation poorly . . . but an employee could get litigious.
In response to a question posed in an issue of New York Enterprise Report, Barbara Kurka of the Katz Media Group offered these suggestions for turning the situation around:
1. Think before you speak.
This is a delicate situation that needs to take place in a private setting and not handled in a rush. If you’re not prepared to explain, dispassionately, how an employee is not measuring up and what she can do to improve, you’re not ready for the conversation.
2. Know your standards.
What does underperformance mean for your company and for that specific position? Are you using objective standards to measure performance (e.g., sales figures, renewed contracts)? What does the position require?
The less objective your standards are, the more you could be wandering into a potential discrimination lawsuit.
3. How long has the employee been underperforming?
Is an employees’ misconduct or underperformance a chronic or situational problem? If it’s chronic, perhaps the employee isn’t right for the job. Or perhaps your company standards and benchmarks have not been clear.
If the problem arose recently, look at factors that might have had an impact: industry conditions, lack of cooperation from other employees or personal problems. While you want to listen attentively, you should steer the conversation back to “what will get the employee to meet our standards?” You don’t want to get embroiled in sagas of personal problems.
4. Decide what you’re willing to do to help the situation.
Are you willing to provide training or other resources to help the employee improve? Within what (realistic) time frame do you want to see improvement? Confirm your conversation in writing. Make a plan for improvement that both you and the employee feel comfortable with, and set realistic goals for achieving it. Follow up on deadlines and timetables.
Like many employee-related situations, difficult conversations can lead you into thorny legal issues. Get some coaching from your company’s employment attorney to learn the right way to conduct them.
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