Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Helping an employee make a performance turnaround...

Turnaround... by ChernobylBob
Turnaround..., a photo by ChernobylBob on Flickr.
You can help an employee make a performance turnaround - if the situation warrants the energy on both of your parts to remedy the situation.  It is hard to contemplate that slot being open, but know going into it that providing the support for the employee's improvement will consume your time.  If you're not willing to invest in this employee, better to cut bait and search for a better fit with another candidate.

So you're not willing to give up on this person?  Then take these steps:
Plan for a performance improvement conversation: 
  • Identify in specific behavioral terms what the person has been doing (or not doing) that is creating the performance issue.
  • Define (again in specific behavioral terms) what you want the employee to be doing instead to bring his or her performance in better alignment with the job role and your expectations.
  • Cite example situations to support your assertions.
  • Determine the timeframe that you are willing to allow for the improvement process, and what your potential courses of action will be if the person does or does not improve.
  • Schedule a meeting time with the person when both of you will be able to be undistracted and uninterrupted.  Choose a location where you will have privacy.
During the performance improvement conversation:
  • Maintain adult ego state.  This means that you describe behaviors, situations, implications, etc., but do not lapse into judging words like "lazy," "incompetent," or other interpretations that will only serve to raise the emotional temperature of the conversation.
  • Follow the planned flow of the conversation.  Describe the unsatisfactory situation, the preferred behavior, and the timeframe in which the person must improve.  It is possible that the employee will respond defensively or try to distract you.  Even if there are other issues brought to light that need to be resolved, unless they are direct contributors to the situation they are for another day.  This conversation will not be effective if even the kitchen sink is thrown into it.
  • Share the improvement plan in writing if this is a repeat offense, or if it is severe enough that termination could be the result of a failure to improve.  Have the employee sign it so there is documentation that the conversation took place, the problem identified and the game plan communicated.  A 30-day or even as much as a 60-day timeframe may be agreed to, but specific day, month, and year should be included in the documentation.
  • Although the scope of this conversation is best if it has a narrow focus, remember to talk about the other things that the individual might be doing well.  If they didn't have some redeeming skills or qualities you wouldn't be taking the time to help them turn around, and placing this in perspective with their whole performance will help them to maintain motivation to improve.  If you paint the situation in strong "or else" terms, the employee may see it as hopeless, and therefore will not exert genuine effort to fix the performance.
  • Agree on a follow-up process.  Talk about how often you will check in with them, and how you will determine whether the performance has improved or not.
After the Performance Improvement Conversation
  • Catch the employee doing something right.  When you see glimmers of improvement, let the employee know that you saw it, and that the behavior is exactly what you're looking for from them.
  • Stick to your plan of regular check-ins.  This is your way to demonstrate authentic concern about helping the employee retain his or her job and achieve the results that you expect.
  • When the agreed-upon timeline is up, meet with the employee and discuss the improvement that you have seen.  If you have not seen adequate improvement, take the action that you laid out in the documentation shared during the performance improvement conversation.
Preventive Measures
The steps outlined above come into play when there are some fairly substantial gaps between your expectations and the employee's performance.  You may be able to prevent these situations from occurring if you:
  1. Take your time to select a candidate who truly fits the job role you have available.
  2. Be specific in laying out the position description and performance expectations up front, so the person knows what you want.
  3. Provide appropriate training to help the employee meet your expectations.
  4. Meet with the employee regularly.  It's much easier for both of you to make small and frequent course corrections than it is to do a turnaround.


Lynn Marie Caissie said...


I have circulated this blog to our managers. We've been having discussions coming from workplace violence and workplace harassment training. We've brought up the specter of workplace incivility and will be pooling our experiences and successes at a lunch and learn so that we have tools to address such behaviour.

This blog was perfect for highlighting our obligation as managers to establish due process for employees who need to turn things around. I especially liked the bit about maintaining adult ego state.

Thanks for, once again, tackling what can be scary in such a straightforward manner.

Julie Poland, certified business coach said...

Lynn Marie -

I'm glad it was helpful. Have a great week!