A managers biggest problem

The perennial problem I had in my work was the challenge of the barely performing team member- the one that everyone loves but who hasn’t been pulling his weight recently.

It’s not like they are deliberately under-performing — he’s not late on his reports and his ideas are generally solid. But he’s just not delivering to your expectations, and you’ve already given him multiple chances to come up to the high standards of the rest of the team.

Now imagine you have a giant red button on your desk., and if you pushed it, Jim would walk into your office right now and announce he’d decided to take a job at another company. Would you push it?

If the answer is yes, maybe you’ve already kept them around for too long? Several management consultants comment that failing to remove a member of your team who’s no longer meeting expectations is one of the most common — and costly — mistakes a manager can make.

Firing people is always hard, no matter how much you’d like someone gone. It’s especially tough when you’ve known them for a while or if they’re well-liked by the rest of your team. But if you’re serious about getting better results in a challenging environment you have to move under-performers out.

Certainly, you have given them the benefit of your coaching, and sat with them and they are still mediocre. The rest of the team are stars and this one member just doesn’t seem to pull their weight when it comes to the work activities. Then you are faced with a choice… accept their mediocrity or move them on.

Here are some suggestions that can help make the process less challenging:

1. Be ruthlessly objective when evaluating your team’s performance. We all know how to identify performance issues as soon as we see them. The challenge is that given the consequences to the person and to you, many of us may not want to admit the issues exist. It’s tempting to make excuses or look the other way when an employee fails to consistently measure up. But, being dishonest with yourself about their abilities creates more work for the rest of your team as they carry the mediocre performer and inevitably more headaches for you. Remember, ruthlessly objective, doesn’t mean be ruthless!

2. As soon as you notice a problem, determine how long you’ll give them to fix it before making the move yourself. Some performance issues are solvable and can be cleared up by highlighting the issue and setting firmer expectations. Other issues are more fundamental and won’t be solved without serious, extensive work on both of your parts. Determine how much effort you’re willing to spend on this person and then be transparent about your timing and expectations. Maybe they are motivated to change, given clear feedback. To help them, let them know the specific measures you’ll be putting into place to assist them. Then stick to the plan and the timetable.

3. If the problem persists, let them go — with compassion. While it may seem impossible to fire someone with compassion, keeping an employee who’s unfit for the task is actually less fair to them than letting them go. Employees who aren’t pulling their weight should know consciously or unconsciously that they aren’t getting the job done. So it’s draining their self-confidence, and it’s likely going to get worse over time. Or they are oblivious to their impact on you and the team- and that really signals that you have to do something.  So long as you’re direct, transparent, and respectful, letting an under-performer go will ultimately be the best thing for both them and your team.

I’ve had to let some mediocre performers go in my time. Its certainly easier for those who deliberately transgress the rule. But some don’t grow as you expected them, or don’t learn as they are in the job… to keep the team performing and yourself in a role you need to keep an eye on them. Remember that time you spend trying to make mediocre into good, could be spent making others who are good, into great team members, shouldn’t you be helping them excel?