What is a manager or business owner to do when someone on your payroll is not doing their job? Of all the aspects of a managers job, this can be one of the most difficult to handle.
If the individual is in a performance base role such as a service technician or salesperson, the issue of underperformance will surface fairly quickly. In the case of a salesperson for example, it could show up as revenue which doesn’t meet plan, a closing ratio that is lower than it should be, underperforming on accessory sales such as smart thermostat/humidifier/air cleaners etc. For a service technician it could be running fewer service calls than the average for other techs, excessive callback rates, underperforming on ancillary sales such as smart thermostats, duct cleaning, high-efficiency filtration, etc. For office staff, it may take a little longer to identify underperformance, because their jobs are not as quantifiable. In either case, the underlying causes – as well as ultimate solutions – are essentially the same. Regular performance reviews based on empirical measurements are key to properly correcting underperformance issues in the workplace. Casual and intermittent observation coupled with managerial opinion is not an acceptable substitute for a properly designed and executed performance evaluation system.
The first step with an underperforming employee is to figure out why they are underperforming. That involves sitting down with the employee, and having a conversation about the performance, letting them know it is sub-par. The manager needs to ask the employee for their assessment of why performance is sub-par, and what they think is needed to improve it. For many managers, this is the toughest thing to do. They do not want to confront an employee, and they may even feel inadequate about having a performance related discussion with the employee. If a manager shirks their duty in this regard, then they become the problem, not the employee. For the basis of this column, assume that is not the problem. If the manager determines that the employee need training, it should be scheduled as soon as is reasonably possible. Following the training, post training measurements should improve. If not, training may not have been the main problem all along. The manager may determine through observation as well as conversation with their employee that the individual whose performance is not meeting the mark is in the wrong job, either because of skill, temperament or other form of suitability. The manager should determine if there is another job which the employee is better suited for. Before making the change in responsibilities however, the manager needs to make sure the employee is able and willing to do what it takes to be successful in the new job. It is critical to understand causality for underperformance by an employee. If an employee is not motivated in their present job, you won’t see an improvement in their performance until you get at the underlying reasons as to why. The same is true if they are not happy in their job. Remember the character Hermey the elf in the show, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer? He was not happy in his work at Santa’s workshop, so he ran off to be a dentist. As a manager, you may have to help the Hermey’s in your business become happy in their work, whether that is in your firm – or somewhere else.
You may have an employee who is underperforming, yet is an individual who has excellent formal education and can articulately explain reasons for their underperformance. Red flags should go up if their reasoning is explained in terms of someone else’s or the system’s fault. They may have let it be known that they do not like, or do not have confidence in their manager. These type of employees may be the toughest of all to deal with when it comes to underperformance related discussions. As their manager, you must not back away from your responsibility, even if you lack self-confidence in having that discussion or it makes you unpopular. You may have an employee who just doesn’t want to do the job, even though they are clearly capable. Irrespective of the reasons why, you ultimately have to terminate an underperforming employee, so they can go elsewhere and find a place where they will be happy in their work.