Great Managers Are Always Nice by Chip Averwater

Chapter 13

Tackling Underperformance

Employees who don’t get as much done as they should are one of management’s perennial challenges—and one that’s tempting to overlook. The team member is often amiable, dependable, and cooperative, and rarely bends or breaks the rules. They just don’t get the results we need.

“Nice” management in no way means ignoring underperformance. If we do, we mislead the team member into thinking they’re doing OK and deprive them of the opportunity to make needed improvements. Worse, we frustrate other team members by holding back the team’s results and lowering its standards. And we are remiss in our responsibilities to our organizations to get results.

Poor performance must be addressed, and the only appropriate way is directly with the employee, in a private one-on-one meeting.

Most poor performers recognize their shortcomings but asking is a good way to open the conversation and test their awareness of expectations.

Underperformance #1

After six months on the job, Dan has fallen behind entering orders. Mike invites him to his office to talk.

M:  Dan, how’re you doing with the orders?

D:  OK, I think.

M:  How current are you?

D:  Probably within a few days.

M:  What are the standards we’re trying to stay within?

D:  I remember you and Sam told me it needs to be current daily. Unfortunately, I’ve gotten a little behind on that lately.

Dan confirms he’s aware of the expectations and knows he’s not meeting them.

Now they need to identify the cause.

M:  What do you feel is holding you back?

D:  Well, I’ve just been busy with other things.

M:  I see. Do you feel you have too many responsibilities?

D:  Not really; I can handle them.

M:  Which do you feel is most important?

D:  Well, this one is.

M:  What do you think the problem has been?

D:  I guess I just haven’t focused on it.

Dan’s analysis seems correct, so Mike asks for a plan to address the problem.

M:  OK, I understand. What do you need to do to fix it?

D:  I guess I just need to make the orders my priority, do them first, and not get distracted by other things until they’re done.

M:  Makes sense. Do you think you can do that?

D:  Yes, I’ll do it.

M:  Is there anything you need?

D:  I don’t think so.

The solution most likely to be executed is usually the one the team member comes up with. Mike feels Dan’s solution is reasonable, so he goes along with it.

M:  OK. I’ll check with you each day until you get caught up.

D:  I can probably be caught up by Thursday.

M:  That would be great. This is important to our team, Dan. We’re counting on you. Thanks for taking it seriously.

Follow-up serves as a reminder to the team member and allows us to confirm the problem has been fixed.

In some cases, calling the team member’s attention to the problem, asking for a plan to take care of it, and following up is enough to resolve underperformance issues.

However, performance problems that appear once often recur. When they do, we need to spot and address them quickly, before they become habit....

Great Managers Are Always Nice