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Tue 26 Aug 2014 01:59 PM

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How to… help an underperformer

Dealing with performance problems can be one of the toughest part of management. Tamara Pupic looks at how you can resolve them while building an environment of encouragement.

How to… help an underperformer

As an entrepreneur, you start building everything from scratch. This should also include creating a teamwork culture of high performance, personal development and continuous learning.

Most of the people who join start-ups do so for the feeling of accomplishment that they’ve taken part in building a vision which has allowed them to express their own creativity and individuality along the way.

Therefore, rather than trying to secure high performance of your staff with high salaries, which in most cases you’re not able to do from day one, a rule of thumb is:

• Recognise and praise successful performance.
• Address underperformance in a fair and equitable manner.

If you’re a smart entrepreneur, you will hire staff whose performance successfully meets and sometimes exceeds your expectations.

But if you are a very smart entrepreneur, you will create a community of motivated individuals whose teamwork results in an outstanding performance.

To do that, at times you will have to face a staff member whose performance is marginal or inadequate. How you address and handle this problem will not only affect the employee in question, but will have a positive or negative spillover effect upon the rest of your team and thus the success of your business.

Although performance problems come in various shapes and sizes, here is a step-by-step checklist to help you establish a system which affords the underperformer due process, and inspires fellow employees to follow you, knowing you’ll stand up for them too.

Step I: Acknowledge the problem

The first step in solving a problem is, as we all know, recognising it. In this case, both your underperforming employee and you need to admit its existence and take the responsibility for its occurrence.

For the employer, this is the moment to check whether the employee’s role was clearly defined and properly communicated to him or her during the hiring process. If not, you will need to explain it now, which will also allow you to review it together and check which part has been particularly hard for him or her to accomplish.

All of this is possible if you actually do communicate with your employees, which brings us to another point – how much and how often do you communicate with your staff? A recent survey among US companies has shown that 43 percent of highly engaged employees receive feedback at least once a week.

The same research revealed that only 40 percent of the workforce knew about their company’s goals, strategies and tactics. Therefore, if it hasn’t been done up to this moment, you should now present the company’s vision and highlight how his or her particular job impacts the overall success of the business.

The reason is that when we feel that what we are doing creates worth, we are motivated to further contribute to the company’s mission.

For the underperforming employee, this is the moment to show a willingness to change and a genuine interest in improving.

A few questions both of you should think and talk about include: Is the performance problem temporary, such as in the first few months when your employee is still new to the job, or is it a permanent issue, such as lack of time management skills? Is it skills-related issue and how it can be improved? Is something else going on which distracts the employee from getting the job done?

Two attitude problems which may prevent an amicable conversation between the two of you and, therefore, allow and justify your immediate corrective measures, are:

• Not taking responsibility for mistakes.
• Refusing to change.

Step II: Devise a reasonable action plan

Having made clear that you want to help, you need to show how you will actually do it.

Set up a counselling session with your underperforming employee during which you will jointly define and prioritise actions needed for progress and determine deadlines.

A structured and agreed performance improvement will allow you to monitor the progress regularly, spotting all the small signs of improvement on the path of building your employee’s new habits.

From this moment, you will personally and professionally progress from a manager to an honest mentor who is capable of leading people.

Step III: Decide what comes next

If an acceptable level of performance has been reached, make sure to praise and reward.

If not, your options include: Devising a new plan of action; transferring the employee to different positions; or non-renewal or termination of his or her employment for unsatisfactory performance.

Lastly, a few must-dos that will position you as an inspirational business leader among your team members:

• Clearly express what the expectations are, including the consequences, and do that regularly.

• Provide frequent feedback – it lessens the likelihood of miscommunication or an unfair or late action.

• Respect confidentiality

• Document, document, document!

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