How to deal with Underperformers
Why your leadership skills determine people’s success
Setting goals is not uncommon in our working world. No matter if you drive a business or an organisation in the charity sector, goals are a common ground to develop your organisation in the right direction.
When you set goals, of course, targets can be missed. This aspect of the working world is where the problems begin. Often, after the leadership team and one of their staff members talked about what to do to become better in the future, the relationship between employee and leadership person is far worse than it has been before. This result is not because you pointed out to a missed goal, but it is due to the way how you communicated with your team members.
The question is: how can we do better?
Your first reaction
Real-world situations will often be more challenging than you expect them to be. A real-world example: an employee misses his goal by 60%. During the annual appraisal, the managing director, the line manager, and the HR manager sit together with him. They show understanding for the situation in which we all are right now and are just about to find a segway to close the discussion with a generally positive outlook. Still, the goal set was widely missed and even in two newly available markets, and not a single deal was signed this year. When they come to the closing remarks, the employee interrupts: “I do not feel appreciated here. I have done so much for this company; you should be way nicer to me.” — awkward silence. Facial expressions of the leadership team derail completely.
This moment is the point where it becomes difficult. We all know how hard it is not to show the first reaction. However, any negative emotions which you communicate now make it difficult to impossible to pursue a productive discussion on from this point. Stay neutral, no matter how hard it is.
Be aware of the first statement
Your first statement is always a question.
I know that some of you will now disagree and stick to old-fashioned principles of an outdated management world. “Draw a line”, “Tell them who the leader is”, “They have to know where their position in the food chain is” are the statements which I usually hear. None of them works anymore in today’s world. These statements have particularly negative consequences with the younger generation, which entered the working world recently.
Starting with a question has many positive aspects and opportunities for you. I agree that it can be emotionally hard for you to follow this path, but the reward will be worth the effort.
You can ask for additional clarifications, ask for examples and specific aspects of the issue. Always be sure to ask for particular moments, situations as well as proof and evidence (tip: do not call it “proof and evidence” when talking to a team member). Often, people see by themselves that they maybe were wrong or their claim has little to no substance.
Having a chat or a professional appraisal with one of your team members always ends with a specific call to action or a concrete next step. Never end on “we will see how it work”. Do not finish a discussion with “I will get back to you in a while”. Refrain from making unclear statements like “maybe there will be a project, but I have to see…”. People understand which message you communicate, and they will always assume the most negative outcome. Agree on a next step and define a call to action. If needed, agree on the following date when you meet again.
If you refuse to end the appraisal with a commitment, you will receive lower motivation, higher employee turnover and lower productivity in return.