5 Tips For Managing Poor Performers

Managing poor performers can be a real headache for a manager, can't it?

With multiple priorities, conflicting deadlines and a team to lead, the individual deemed to be the poor performer does tend to take up an inordinate amount of the manager's time. Some managers unwittingly feel that the more time and attention they allocate to managing a poor performer, the more likely a turnaround in performance will be. This really isn't the case!

As a Manager, take a moment to reflect on the top 5 tips on how to manage poor performers in your team. The tips may be contrary to your current beliefs, but just give them the opportunity to resonate with you. Clients tell us that they have found real value in applying the tips below.

1. Understand that if performance has previously been good, acceptable or excellent, the current 'poor' level of performance has been created rather than being a default setting.

Rather than focusing purely, or largely on addressing what isn't acceptable, whether it be productivity, quality, behaviour or attitude, instead acknowledge that the individual has previously performed well. This contrast helps the individual to understand that they DO possess the ability (and possibly willingness) to perform to a standard your organisation deems acceptable.

2. Question 'What has changed for you which has resulted in your reduced performance?'

This question alone opens the door for a candid discussion about the specific beliefs, observations, expectations that may have changed in the individual about how s/he should perform, communicate and contribute to your organisation, and your team. We frequently find that the drop in performance, attention, motivation and attention to detail tracks back to either boredom (I don't enjoy doing the job...and you may be surprised to learn how many of your team believe they are in the wrong role), or the managers management style, i.e., you catch the individual doing things wrong, but rarely, if ever, acknowledge them when they do something fantastic.

Ask the question above and you'll learn about the specifics, rather than guessing or simply accepting generalisations about why the individual isn't performing effectively or optimally.

3. Understand your role in facilitating thinking rather than imposing change

Yes, there may come a time when the poor performer has reached a level where HR need to get involved. Before that though, be careful of unwittingly falling in to the trap of 'telling' your colleague WHAT YOU NEED FROM THEM. The human brain does not like instructions or demands placed on it, instead, it prefers to respond more positively to invitations and requests. Yes, it's scientifically proven!

Take a more collaborative coaching role and ask "What are two things you know that you can do to return your performance to an acceptable level?", and then be silent.  Don't be tempted to cover the silence or become frustrated with an "I don't know" response.  In such cases it's not uncommon for the 'poor performer' to remain silent and wait for the manager to state their demands or recommendations. If you do this, who owns the solution? Not the poor performer!

4. Allocate a peer coach where valuable

The last thing your colleague may want is you, the manager, 'constantly' asking them how they are doing, if they need any help etc. To develop greater personal ownership of creating the required change, consider allocating a peer who can, and is willing, to coach the under performing colleague.

Peer coaching can work wonderfully well in such a situation as it removes the individual's belief that s/he is compelled to comply with an authority figure. Peer coaching tends to be received as more collaborative and helpful rather than management coaching that can easily be received as 'checking up on me'.

5. Remember, you may not understand the real reason for poor performance

For high levels of employee engagement, motivation and commitment to be achieved, and maintained, high trust relationships between you and your team members are vital.

Remember, your team members are far more likely to be open and honest with you if they trust you as a person, rather than 'respect' you because of your job title. Take time to demonstrate genuine empathy, build trust, lead by example, and really listen to your team members. Developing a healthy 'Emotional Climate' is an essential part of developing a dynamic team, with members who WANT to perform well, rather than feeling they HAVE to perform well.

Posted by on January 12, 2015

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