Every manager prefers to avoid dealing with an under-performing employee. The likelihood of conflict, time-consuming meetings and paperwork, struggling with the fairness issues, and wanting to be liked by everyone are all part of the challenge faced by a manager with a problem employee. There seems to be no perfect solution, yet procrastination is not the proper next step. Let me offer some straightforward advice to managers in this situation.
This advice will come in 2 parts. First, I want to suggest how a requisite manager would handle the situation. Requisite managers are those who follow the best practices of management science to deliver the high performance results every organization deserves. Lastly, I will make practical suggestions to those who may not have been requisite managers and now must accept today’s reality in dealing with this situation.
The requisite manager begins dealing with the problem employee before hiring them. I have written about hiring and managing employees in earlier posts, so look back for more details. I am not suggesting one can be perfect in hiring decisions, but a manager should be clear about the definition of a role before hiring, and then regularly review expectations for each role with the incumbent employees. In other words, performance management is an everyday process for the requisite manager. Reviewing the role expectation and giving all subordinates regular feedback requires designing a process with regular one on one chats. These chats cover the questions found in Post 8. Four Questions. Just as importantly the employee knows when they fall short of expectations, not by having a single dreaded meeting when the manager has lost hope, but by identifying positive and negative issues and reviewing these with employees regularly. In this process the employee reaches similar conclusions as the manager in evaluating their performance. Those employees which realize they struggle meeting expectations often decide to find a more appropriate role without the need for further action by their manager. If they do not find another role on their own, the requisite manager initiates removal which first begins with discussing the situation with the manager’s manager. For clarity, let’s call this person the manager-once-removed or MoR.
Note that the MoR has some key accountability in the performance management process. First, the MoR has had regular chats with the requisite manager to review expectations and give regular feedback to them as an employee. Therefore the MoR knows when a subordinate-once-removed (SoR) is struggling to meet expectations and monitors fair treatment across all managers. The MoR considers whether the requisite manager is “the problem” rather than the struggling SoR. If not, the MoR decides how to remove the struggling employee, whether by termination to be done by the requisite manager, or to re-assign the employee to another role where he/she is likely to meet expectations.
There is much more to be explained about a requisite manager but I have given a brief overview of the performance management process. By following this process problem employees are less likely and other employees are confident contributors to a high performing organization. If a manager procrastinated dealing with a problem employee, he/she is being unfair to good performers and the MoR has a problem employee. Don’t you become a problem employee by procrastinating.
If you are new to becoming a requisite manager begin having regular face to face discussions with all your direct reports. Be clear about the expectation of their role and answer the 4 questions. Consider using CPQQRT’s to give clear task assignments (see Post 7. Task Assignments). Seek advice from your manager about dealing with your struggling employee, including establishing an improvement plan which is reviewed regularly in one on one meetings with your employee. Document everything and place notes in your file. Inform HR and get their advice, but remember, this is part of your role as manager. Do not expect HR to do your job for you. In summary, ensure you have communicate fair and clear expectations. If the employee can not meet the expectations of the role, have a conversation with your manager about removal of the employee from the role.
Performance management begins before hiring by being clear about the expectations of a role. After hiring, every employee deserves to have regular discussion about the 4 questions. They also deserve to have others in the organization meeting the same expectations as they. Manage the problem employee and deliver high performance results from your organization.