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Clearview® Performance Systems brings you ... ... a Culture of Results & Engagement™

Managerial TIPS*

Proven High Value Activities (HVAs)

[ *Techniques/Insights/Practical Solutions ]

Here's the next in our series of weekly managerial TIPS (Techniques, Insights, and Practical Solutions)
to help you better engage your team in the activities that lead to higher performance.

CORE Bites Issue #45

You've 'Inherited' a Low-Performer. Now What?

You've just accepted a new position and you're now going to be leading an existing team of employees. While you're excited about the opportunity to grow this team of (mostly) good/great performers, you're also feeling some angst because you'll be inheriting an acknowledged under-performer.

During the final interview for this new position, the under-performing employee came up as an "issue that will need to be dealt with." Your discomfort increased significantly when you realized the employee in question had been allowed to perform at mediocre levels for an extended period of time, and that his past annual performance reviews were all "Meets Expectations."

Too far-fetched? Couldn't happen?

I can't speak for your organization specifically, but my observations—generally—of current organizational practices confirm that under-management has become an epidemic—there's just not enough effective performance management being done! We often hear that micro-management (a close opposite of under-management) is a problem but—at least in the context of increasing accountability within poor performing employees—under-management seems to be much more prevalent.

High Value Activity (HVA) Action Steps

The HVAs listed below are designed to help alleviate some of the angst when you've inherited an under-performing employee and get him or her engaged in practices that lead to higher performance.

  • First [important!] ... Ignore What You've Been Told: Before you discount this HVA as being too radical to be adopted, let me explain where I'm coming from. Someone else (not YOU) determined that this person is an under-performer; someone else (not YOU) set goals and expectations (or didn't); established boundaries (or didn't); enforced standards (or didn't); provided constructive feedback (or didn't); delivered positive reinforcement (or didn't). Someone else ... but not YOU! My point is what if this "someone else" didn't do the things YOU will do to help this employee succeed? To give the employee a chance; to identify specific causes of the poor performance and work with the employee (when warranted) to remedy the situation; to offer the appropriate levels of guidance and support to take the employee to the next level; to hold the Course Correction Dialogue (CCD) tough conversations when they're needed. My advice is to initially ignore what you're being told about this person and treat him or her like a Learning Eagle. Then, let the employee's behaviors convey who he or she really is and what he or she stands for (Remember, "Behaviors speak the truth"). Over the years I've been delighted with how many "under-performing" people have been saved as a result of this simple (but bold) step.

If the employee's behaviors still convey "Under-Performer" ...

  • Make Step It!™ Goal-Setting Mission-Critical: If the employee is not delivering the results you need ... in a timely fashion ... with the quality you expect, make sure his or her goals are well-conceived and crystal clear. Don't look at frequent goal setting as too bureaucratic for an under-performer; he or she has not yet 'earned the right' to unmitigated autonomy. Establish incremental goals (e.g., weekly for front-line; monthly for more senior employees) to give him or her (and you) a roadmap to follow and something concrete to coach to. This is basically the one situation when micromanaging makes sense (yes, it's a pain for you, but it's the necessary step to create the self-sustaining accountability you desire. When he or she starts performing better, then you can revisit the frequency of these goal-setting sessions). The Step It! methodology is perfect for this type of Incremental Improvement (I2) goal setting.
  • Addressing (the inevitable) Push-Back Head-On: If the individual has been given good performance reviews in the past and you're now letting the person know his or her performance is substandard, it's predictable that you'll hear something like, "I've been doing this job for 3 years and my last manager never said that these things were expected or important." Your response should be (something like), "While I can't speak for your previous manager, my management commitment to you is to provide clarity; to establish clear expectations so you and your peers will understand what's important in the work you do and what will be measured at review time. I'm certain you would rather have this clarity now rather than hearing it at review time when it doesn't help you. So based on what we've talked about, it appears that you have the skills and knowledge to do these tasks. Am I right?"

Note: The primary reason you're now dealing with an 'inherited' under-performer is because his or her substandard performance was not dealt with by your predecessor (the previous manager). Regardless of the reason(s) that manager had for tolerating poor performance, now is the time for spinal fortitude - have the necessary conversations and put in place the necessary action plans that should have been done in the past (this employee's future managers will thank you!).

I'd love to hear how this HVA works for you!

Neil Dempster, PhD, MBA
RESULTant™ and Behavioral Engineer

Quote of the Week

"If you are building a culture where honest expectations are communicated and peer accountability is the norm, then the group will address poor performance and attitudes."

— Henry Cloud —