Six Ways to Turn a Poor Performer Around

Every manager has one or two poor performers in their unit or department. They probably inherited these individuals when they assumed the previous manager's position and now must deal with them by either turning them around or terminating them for poor performance.

Every manager has one or two poor performers in their unit or department. They probably inherited these individuals when they assumed the previous manager's position and now must deal with them by either turning them around or terminating them for poor performance.

Employees' negative behaviors often impact their overall performance and mirror their personal skills, attitudes and levels of discipline and perseverance. Many individuals have the "right stuff" to be successful and only need guidance and direction to focus their abilities and increase and sustain their performance.

It is essential for managers to be able to distinguish between employees who can be rehabilitated and those who should find another company and/or profession.

Employees who are struggling but have the ambition or potential can, with the proper guidance and direction, be turned into above-average and even excellent performers. It is often more sensible financially to work with these individuals rather than recruit and train new people. Also, from an ethical perspective, these people deserve the opportunity to turn themselves and their work around.

Managers must have a plan and structure to transition struggling people into better-than-average performers. The following steps can be used to turn a poor performer into a highly productive employee:

Define Performance Levels

Many employees are genuinely unaware of what constitutes acceptable behavior and performance. A manager will often inherit people who were simply not informed properly as to what is expected of them. Past managers may have dropped the ball, failing to work with these individuals to develop their potential.

The first step a manager must take is to inform the employee that his or her behavior is unacceptable and that it is negatively impacting their performance and the overall performance of the company. Then a realistic time frame is established for rehabilitation and bringing his or her work into line with established standards.

Analyze Behaviors

Managers must take the time to review and analyze the employee's work-related performance and activities in order to identify the specific behaviors that must be eliminated, modified, or replaced with more productive efforts.

Such discussions can be sensitive and put the individual on the defensive. He or she must understand that the time and effort being expended is done so with the belief that his or her performance can be improved. Tactfully done, this should motivate the employee to change and make them more amenable to future recommendations to improve their performance. The manager should further make it clear that a failure to improve adequately could result in termination.

Establish A Coaching Plan

The manager and employee should develop a realistic and attainable goal and a coaching plan to assist him or her to change their behaviors and achieve acceptable levels of performance.

The coaching plan should be confined to a particular time frame with specific objectives met by predetermined points. Each goal and objective should be attainable by the employee and easily measured by both parties. The full responsibility for their implementation falls on the employee, with the manager providing full support and assistance as required.

Commit to Goals and Objectives

Once a coaching plan is developed and agreed upon by both parties, it is important that both commit themselves to the outlined goals and objectives. While the employee will carry the majority of accountability for the plan, the manager must commit to fulfilling his or her portion of the responsibility as completely as possible if it is to be successful. This may include providing the employee individualized training and reinforcement and a large commitment of energy.

If managers want these individuals to make a positive change, they must actively work with them toward these goals. Developing a plan and leaving these individuals without adequate supervision and support is a recipe for failure--and is unfair. It builds his or her expectations for improved performance and will result in complete demoralization when they are unable to make the necessary changes on their own.

Manage Goals and Objectives

The implementation of the coaching plan is the most critical element of resolving negative behaviors and reversing an employee's performance. Both employee and manager must actively manage the goals and objectives with the employee continuously working toward their accomplishment and the manager keeping them focused and on track. This means he or she must positively reinforce the employee's desirable behaviors and provide redirection when old behaviors resurface. Additionally, as the manager coaches their employee, he or she is providing constructive criticism to guide and direct them in attaining their goals and objectives.

Measure Progress Against Goals

As coaching plans are implemented, managers must measure the employee's progress at regular intervals and provide full and sufficient feedback in order for them to make needed adjustments. As the employee progresses toward the attainment of his or her goals and objectives, monitoring can be less frequent and intensive.

When the employee does meet the stated goals and objectives, the manager should celebrate the individual's success to reinforce their good work. While some managers will assume they are just doing what is expected of them, any major change is worthy of celebration.

Adapted from Negative Employee Attitudes: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, 2011) by Timothy Bednarz, Ph.D.