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7 Tips for Addressing Employee Performance Problems

April 3, 2020

By: Wendy Sheaffer

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to force more employers to shift to remote working arrangements, it’s more important than ever for managers to monitor employee performance. While a remote workplace can certainly be quite effective, the lack of direct supervision can sometimes cause accountability to fall by the wayside. This is especially true if employees aren’t accustomed to working in a remote environment.

However, monitoring performance is important no matter where employees are located. When someone begins to fall short of expectations, it can be hard to get them back on track without creating a confrontational situation. 

Performance Matters in the Workplace

When 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 whether you’re dealing with a remote employee or someone working on-site.

Sometimes it might be a matter of behavior and accountability. Your star performer might be producing good work, but if she’s consistently showing up late and blowing off her manager to do her own thing, other employees might start getting the idea that if the rules don’t apply to her, they shouldn’t apply to them either. When the stakes go up a level during a crisis, however, attention to detail matters. If everyone on the team isn’t doing their job to the best of their ability, producing quality deliverables will prove rather difficult.

The same principle applies whether people are working remotely or in the office. If a few employees aren’t pulling their weight and meeting expectations, everyone else is left picking up the slack or may even decide that they don’t need to hold themselves accountable either. When performance starts to slip, it can be difficult for everyone to “flip the switch” when they need to do more than just “get by.” It can also lead to widespread resentment and frustration.

Addressing Poor Performance

Of course, in other cases, an underperforming employee simply becomes a detriment to the team. Maybe they’re unable to meet quality standards or can’t seem to make it to work on time every day. Whatever the case, when someone isn’t able to meet expectations, it’s up to their manager to find a way to address the issue quickly and effectively.

Sometimes it just takes a candid conversation to get somebody back on the right path. In other cases, they may need to be put on a performance improvement plan or be reassigned to another set of tasks that are more suited to their skills. If none of these efforts prove effective, however, leaders must then make the difficult decision to part ways with an employee who is unable to consistently meet expectations.

Move Quickly and Document Actions Taken

Regardless of the work situation, 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. Whether they’re working remotely or on-site, you should regularly communicate expectations to employees so they have a sense of how well they’re doing and where they need to make improvements. 

Documentation is important here because it provides both guidance for the employee and a record of what actions were taken to improve performance. If an employee is still feeling unclear about what is expected of them, they can refer to a record of what was discussed in meetings and what action items were put in place to help them improve. Having this documentation makes addressing performance more productive and less stressful or emotional. It will also prove critical in the event that disciplinary action needs to be taken, up to and including dismissal. 

7 Tips for Addressing Employee Performance Issues

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!

It’s worth stressing this point once again. Write it down. Did you write it down? Make sure you wrote it down. Did we 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. It’s not enough to simply lay out solutions and hope things improve. You need to follow up with the employee to make sure they’re taking the necessary steps to improve performance.

Whether you’re managing a team remotely or working in a traditional on-site workplace, it’s important to constantly evaluate whether your team members are meeting expectations. Performance issues rarely get better on their own, which means it falls to you to step up as a leader and provide the feedback and guidance people need to understand what’s expected of them and how they can get better.

Wendy Sheaffer

Chief Product Officer at The Omnia Group, an employee assessment firm providing the power of behavioral insight to help organizations make successful hires and develop exceptional employees. Wendy joined Omnia as an analyst in 1998 and is a subject matter expert in using Omnia’s 8 columns as a tool to make more-informed hiring and development decisions and effectively engage staff. She works directly with clients and Omnia staff to provide a deeper understanding of how to use personality data to meet business goals. Wendy provides strategic direction on client requests, projects and product training sessions. For more information, email info@omniagroup.com or call 800.525.7117.

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