How to Address Employee Performance Problems

Sections of this topic

    © Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD, Authenticity Consulting, LLC.
    Adapted from the Field Guide to Leadership and Supervision in Business and
    Field Guide to Leadership and Supervision for Nonprofit Staff.

    Strongly Suggested Pre-Reading

    How to Ensure Strong Employee Performance Management

    Sections of This Topic Include

    Also, consider

    Basic Guidelines to Address Employee Performance Problems

    (Note that if your organization’s policies about performance management indicate a specific procedure for handling performance issues, that procedure should be followed very carefully. Otherwise, a court may interpret your official policies to be modified by how you actually handled a performance issue and you may lose protection from your related policies in court.)

    1 . Note that performance issues should always be based on behaviors that were actually seen, not on characteristics that you or someone else senses or intuits about the employee’s personality. .

    2. Convey performance issues to employees when you see first see the issues!
    Don’t wait until the performance review! Worse yet, don’t ignore the behaviors in case they “go away.”

    3. When you first convey a performance issue to an employee, say what you noticed and would like to see instead.
    Be specific about what you saw that you have a problem with. Ask the employee for feedback. Ask the employee if there’s any special training or more resources they need to do their job. Explore if the job is configured so that most people would probably fail, and so the job needs to be redesigned. Tell them that you want the behavior to improve. If they react strongly and claim they will quit, give them a day to think it over. In any case, remind them that you support them in their role.

    4. Consider special circumstances.
    You can usually fire someone if they committed certain gross acts, such as theft, blatant insubordination, or a major impropriety, e.g., telling information to competitors or spreading confidential information about clients, etc. However, if there is poor performance or chronic absenteeism because of potential verified alcoholism or depression, it’s best to consult an expert to deal with this situation.

    5. Make notes about the first meeting and its results, and keep them in a file for yourself. You might mention the situation to your board.
    This note may come in handy later on if the performance problem persists. The board will likely be a precious and objective asset in dealing with this situation, especially if things with the employee get worse.

    6. If the problem occurs again over the next two months, immediately issue them a written warning. Also, update the board.
    In the memo, clearly specify what you saw, mention the previous meeting and its date, say the behaviors have not improved, and warn them that if this occurs again over some period (e.g., the next month), they will be promptly terminated. Meet with them to provide them with the memo. If you are convinced that the employee is trying hard, but can’t improve, consider placing him or her elsewhere in the organization. Attempt to have this meeting on other than on a Friday. Otherwise, employees are left to ruminate about the situation without ready access to you for at least three days.

    7. On the third occurrence, consider firing the employee.

    Employee Commitment: Get Rid of “It’s Not My Job!”

    By Marcia Zidle

    The attitude “I don’t give a rip about my job” happens every single day.

    Employees get this way when they are bored with their job, feel like a faceless cog in a big wheel, or don’t know how “what they do” specifically contributes to the goals of their department or business unit. So what causes it? How can you, as a supervisor, prevent “It’s not my job” from happening within your team or department? Here are three ways to develop employee commitment.

    1. Communicate the importance of what they do.

    Every supervisor should be able to state a meaningful purpose for his department and the work that is being done. Here is a short but powerful statement that was developed by a manager for her five-person benefits group.

    “Benefits are about people. It’s not whether you have the forms filled in or whether the checks are written. It’s whether the people are cared for when they’re sick, helped when they’re in trouble.”

    It is a statement with a focus on the end result—serving people—rather than on the means or process—of completing forms. How well do you communicate the importance of what is being done in your department?

    2. Recognize the importance of recognition.

    The motto of many supervisors is: “Why would I need to thank someone for doing something he’s paid to do?” Workers repeatedly tell, with great feeling, how much they appreciate a compliment. They also report how distressed they are when their supervisor is quick to criticize mistakes but not acknowledge
    good work.

    A pat on the back, simply saying “good going,” a dinner for two, a note about them to senior executives, some schedule flexibility, a paid day off, or even a flower on a desk with a thank-you note are a few of the hundreds of ways supervisors can show their appreciation. Money may get people in the door but it doesn’t keep them motivated to go the extra mile.

    3. Tap into the importance of involvement.

    There may be no single motivational tactic more powerful than asking for people’s input. An accounting manager presented a list of customer complaints at a staff meeting. She then broke the group into teams to find ways to eliminate these service glitches.

    Getting everyone involved in problem-solving accomplished three goals. It brought the customers to the center of the department’s day-to-day operations; it lead to greater ‘buy-in” when changes had to be made in a process, policy, or procedure; and finally, it said to everyone that they and their ideas are valued.

    As one very proud production line worker in an automotive plant said to me, “They only looked at what we could do from our neck down…now it’s for what we can do from our neck up.”
    Management Success Tip:

    It is true that most people must work to survive and money is certainly a motivator — but up to a point. For your employees to achieve great things, they need to experience purpose, recognition, and involvement. As a supervisor, you can provide that. It costs you nothing. And you might gain greater productivity and profitability.

    Additional Perspectives on Addressing Employee Performance Problems

    Learn More in the Library’s Blogs Related to Addressing Employee Performance Problems

    In addition to the articles on this current page, also see the following blogs that have posts related to Addressing Employee Performance Problems. Scan down the blog’s page to see various posts. Also, see the section “Recent Blog Posts” in the sidebar of the blog or click on “Next” near the bottom of a post in the blog. The blog also links to numerous free related resources.

    For the Category of Supervision:

    To round out your knowledge of this Library topic, you may want to review some related topics, available from the link below. Each of the related topics includes free, online resources.

    Also, scan the Recommended Books listed below. They have been selected for their relevance and highly practical nature.