addressing employee performance problemsWhen things aren’t going great with a new (or even a seasoned) employee, it may not be fun to address their performance problem, but letting it slide isn’t doing them or you any favors. There are times when it is clear that you, as a manager, need to step in.

For example, Frank has neglected to show up to work for the last two weeks, or Hal tends to leave a trail of smoke and cinders wherever he goes (especially disconcerting because Hal’s an accountant), or Jeannine has posted “For Sale” flyers in the break room featuring office equipment she recently reported stolen. When things are less obvious or less terrible, though, it may be tempting to take a wait-and-see approach. Sure, Frank hasn’t met a key indicator this year, or Hal can’t seem to get along with anyone or Jeannine consistently takes longer lunches than everyone else, but at least there’s no fire or theft. Besides, it’s really busy right now, and, their performance review is coming up anyway, and conflict is bad for morale, and there’s a hiring freeze on and…and…

The fact is, it’s easy to find a reason to put off an unpleasant talk, but there better reasons not to.

Let’s talk about morale: When one person gets away with poor behavior, the people who are toeing the line and meeting expectations can feel resentful, especially if they have to pick up the slack for the under-performers.

Copy cats: Of course, some people may just replicate the behavior, instead of wasting time resenting it. Then you have two (or more people) to talk to.

Starting a documentation trail: Unfortunately the first sign of trouble is often not the last. Once you have a problem documented, you are better prepared if you need to escalate. A documentation trail is essential if you have to give an employee the boot further down the line.

It might just make things better! A serious talk with Frank, Hal and Jeannine may be all it takes to get them to shape up. This may even be the last difficult chat you have to have with them.

The sooner you address the issue, the sooner it can be resolved. Remember, there should be no unpleasant surprises on an annual performance review. The employee should already know how he or she is doing before then.

Here are 7 tips for addressing employee performance problems to make this a productive and helpful meeting, instead of stressful and emotional:

1) Keep it specific, factual and unemotional. Explain the goal or standard the person was expected to meet, and discuss the action that actually occurred. The difference between the two can speak for itself.

2) Be thorough but don’t embellish. If you tend to err on the “too nice” side, make sure you discuss the entirety of the problem. You don’t want the performer leaving your office thinking you just had a friendly gab session. But, make sure you aren’t making things sound worse than they are. That can hurt your credibility.

3) Don’t make it personal. You may be upset or offended or disappointed that the person is not meeting expectations, but your feelings are not the reason for the meeting, the person’s performance (or lack of performance) is. If you need to throw a mini-tantrum before or after in private, go for it! Then pull yourself together and move on.

4) Be prepared to listen to and consider valid excuses. If someone is falling short of key indicators, make sure the goals are realistic given the person’s training and time on the job. Is there a learning curve you need to respect? You may need to offer additional coaching and mentoring.

5) Outline an action plan: You’ve pointed out the problem, now give the person the steps to fix it. What specifically do you need to see to know the issue is improving? Give clearly defined actions and set a follow-up date (or dates).

6) DOCUMENT EVERYTHING! Write it down. Did you write it down? Make sure you wrote it down. Did I mention writing it down? Check with your HR department for any rules regarding performance documentation. Also, write it down.

7) Follow through: Check in when you said you were going to, and (if necessary) take the action you said you were going to take.

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Jennifer Lucas