Coburg Banks | Multi-sector UK recruitment agency

How long should you give an underperformer? – Part 3

By James Ball | Nov 9, 2014 | Staff Retention

In the first two parts of this article we looked at the metrics you can use to try and understand if you can turn around an underperformer and make them a valued member of your team.

As well as getting together with the HR dept to discuss likely next steps, I detailed how applying a personal performance model could give you real clarity on how to progress.

We looked in the last part about how you could apply the personal performance model to an underperformer and how there are certain traits of an employee, such as attitude, that can be nigh on impossible to correct.

In the final part below, I have detailed an example from my own managerial career below when sometimes despite your best efforts; it can sometimes be a thankless task trying to turn an underperformer into a star performer.

Underperformer: Stuck in their ways

I once had a marketing manager who worked for me who was a great employee.  They had been with the company for years, were loyal, hardworking and generally achieved their performance goals.  However, on the flip side they were also autocratic, inflexible and controlling, with a management style that could be best described as archaic and heavy handed.

In a time when the company was trying to stress empowerment, lean concepts and employee involvement in order to drive the business forward, this individual was disliked by his team because of their old-fashioned approach to man-management.

However, because of their long-service and other favourable traits, we decided that rather than move him from a managerial position, we would do our upmost to change his leadership style.

Coaches were hired, 360 surveys were completed, weekly feedback sessions installed, in fact anything we could put in place to try and change this individual’s managerial style.

This continued for 12 months and we reviewed the situation again.  His team said that they had noticed some improvement in his performance, but mainly because he was making an effort.  But when we gained feedback from the team, they said he was still a top-down, autocratic and controlling manager.

So after 12 months of expense and effort, we had seen a 15% – 20% improvement in his performance, when in reality, the company had needed, and expected, a 50 – 70% gain.

Underperformer: Why do we accept it?

Sometimes we refuse to confront a serious performance issue because we want to be liked, and want to do right by the individual – especially if we have an emotional attachment to him or her.

But if you really reflect on this point, that act is really selfish – driven possibly by the desire to ease your own conscience.  Avoidance does not benefit the employee in the long run. Worse yet, it is unfair to the other higher performing employees.

At a minimum, this creates a kind of double standard that makes it harder for you to hold any other employee accountable for their performance. This can seriously undermine morale. At worst, it moves your entire team and organisation in the direction of mediocrity which is never a good thing in a competitive market place.

Markets have a brutal way of catching up to mediocre organisations in a fast changing and competitive world. In the end, the entire organisation suffers.

It will be a tragedy If the business ends up seeing good performers leave because of your failure as a leader to act.

Underperformer: Summary

It is the job of managers to do right by the company and assure the success of the whole. Sometimes that means we have to confront unpleasant situations and people. To me, allowing an underperformer to continue in their job without resolution is both disrespectful to them, and the rest of the business.

It is simply not reasonable to refrain from taking action by deluding ourselves that we were being kind, patient, and caring. To me, failure of action IS the cruellest, unkindest, most unethical act a leader can make.

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