People are hired to do a job—get results. When they don’t, the easy and lazy course for leaders is a simple “get better or get out.” Actually that is not leading, it is bossing.
The truth is, unsatisfactory performance usually has a backstory—some facts bearing on the case. Effective leaders try to understand what it is, not to make excuses, but to make corrections if possible. After all, raising the performance level of a current employee (or volunteer) is often a lot easier than starting over with a new one.
Is the employee adequately trained?
Have we provided the tools needed to do the job in the time and to the level expected?
Are the performance expectations realistic and clear?
Does the employee have the intellectual and emotional capacity to do the job?
Is morale affecting the performance and if so, what is the cause of the morale problem?
Is the employee lazy? (Yes, some are.)
Are personal issues at home or here at the workplace distracting the employee?
Does this employee fit our culture and share our values?
Have we promoted the employee beyond his or her ability to perform?
Is this a job fit issue: the employee was great in her prior job, but not performing now?
And so on….
Now let me make it clear, getting results is mandatory. The purpose in digging out the backstory is not to find reasons for ignoring unsatisfactory performance. It is to find ways of fixing unsatisfactory performance. But if you can’t…well, you know what you need to do.
One final thought. Every performance appraisal is also an appraisal of self. If employee performance is unsatisfactory, it may be because your leadership is unsatisfactory. Sorry, but you needed to hear that.
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© Copyright 2013 by Dick Wells, The Hard lessons Company
The headline in the July 4th Tennessean was: “Vanderbilt University Medical Center Cuts Jobs.” The number of employees affected was unspecified, but later reports hinted it was about 300±. A VUMC spokesman clarified that the cuts were “not layoffs,” but were “focused on employees who scored below a certain threshold in performance evaluations.”
Of course, VUMC is being trashed by some for being heartless and interested only in money. Hmmm…I wonder about that since they provide over $200M (yes, $200M!) of free healthcare per year to uninsured and poor patients.
To put this in perspective, 300 people are only 2% of VUMC’s workforce of 16,000. I guarantee you that more than 2% are under-performing. In most large organizations (including ones I have led), upwards of 5-10% of employees aren’t really performing at the level needed and that they are paid for. So I say, “Bravo, Vanderbilt!” But I do have a few thoughts (learned the hard way) that might help VUMC—or your organization—keep out of the headlines when taking on the next 2%.
#1 Rather than doing all performance appraisals at the same time, spread them throughout the year. Every PA is important and deserves thoughtful, special attention, which is difficult when they are all due next week.
#2 Under-performers should be released when remedies have failed. (VUMC could have avoided the headlines by taking action one at a time instead of en masse.)
#3 Nothing said or written in a PA should ever be a surprise. The purpose of a PA is not to ambush an employee. Performance feedback—especially when negative—should be given when it occurs.
#4 Don’t use numerical ratings. Numbered systems put the employee’s focus solely on the rating instead of the actual performance. Whatever needs to be said, can be said without assigning a number to it.
#5 Minimize the use of adjectives to describe performance. Whether good or bad, try to express performance in terms of outcomes/results/etc.
#6 If overall performance is unsatisfactory, don’t expect the employee to agree with you. There are few people who will acknowledge they aren’t getting the job done. If they do agree, they will believe it is someone else’s fault. Don’t expect to hear “You’re right, I should be fired.”
#7 Working hard is not the same thing as getting results. Most people believe they should be rewarded for working hard and doing their best even if the results are unsatisfactory. After all, isn’t that what we teach our children? And by the way, almost all employees believe they are working hard. Don’t expect to hear “I’m lazy and deserve to be fired.”
#8 Underperforming employees will rarely fix themselves. It is your job as the leader to help them raise their performance. [I’ll discuss some of the reasons for underperformance in my next post.] However, if their performance can’t be raised, you need to do what VUMC did.
In Straight From The Gut, Jack Welch says, “Removing people will always be the hardest decision a leader faces. Anyone who enjoys doing it shouldn’t be on the payroll, and neither should anyone who can’t do it.”
Most leaders have a tendency to postpone the “hardest decisions” that affect people; I have certainly been guilty. In the long run, it never pays to tolerate underperformance in your organization. When you do, it can become the “norm.” Is that what you want?
Please forward to a friend if this post is interesting and useful.
© Copyright 2013 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company
"The best way to lead people into the future is to connect with them deeply in the present."
Kouzes & Posner