Managers fire employees, leaders talk to them.
Knowing when you’ve crossed the proverbial Rubicon with an employee isn’t always black and white. How poor of a performer does someone have to be before you decide to part ways with them? How many chances should they be given to succeed?
If an employee isn’t living up to your expectations there are generally two things you should consider.
Firstly, how are you, as their manager supporting them? Maybe they need more hands-on guidance, direction, advice etc. It’s always easier to point a finger at someone else, but before you do so, make sure you are giving them all the tools they need to succeed. While it’s easy to think, “If they needed help they would ask”, don’t be so quick to pass the blame onto them.
Secondly, before any formal discussion, it’s usually a good idea to have an informal talk. Ask them how are they feeling about their performance. Review their goals and where they stand. If there’s an attitude issue, or someone is missing deadlines regularly, mention it to them in as clear a manner as possible. Perhaps there are some mitigating factors you aren't aware of which can shed some light on their performance? People will often try to deal with personal issues as quietly as possible without even realizing it is impacting their work. Maybe they have an elderly parent who has been needing extra care, or have some financial issue that is weighing heavily on them. Whatever it might be, by having an informal and non-combative conversation, you are giving them the opportunity to both own up to their poor performance as well as potentially given an explanation as to why.
Take a scenario where Melanie has been with a company for just over a year and has started missing numerous project deadlines. The conversation with her manager can go a couple of different ways.
Scenario 1: “Melanie, we need to talk about you missing all these deadlines. You know how important timelines are to our clients and it’s simply unacceptable that you aren’t adhering to them. This has to stop immediately.”
In this scenario the manager takes a combative role. Melanie probably walks away feeling dejected and with the impression that her manager doesn’t really care about her, rather, all he or she is worried about are deadlines.
Scenario 2: “Melanie, I wanted to talk with you about the project deadlines you’ve been missing recently. You’ve been here for over a year and it’s just so unlike you. You’ve always completed your work on time. Is there something going on that you want to discuss? Is there anything I can do differently to help you?”
In this scenario, the manager still addresses the core issue, but he or she puts Melanie in the forefront. Her manager both praises her previous work but also acknowledges the current situation. He or she is also opening the door for her to offer some “rebuttal” which might explain what’s been going on.
Aside from being the humane thing to do, this friendly type of talk also alerts the employee that something is amiss. That way, if a more serious discussion is required, it doesn’t come out of the blue. If after you’ve spoke to them you still don’t see a change, then it might be time to make one. Now what…? (Stay tuned for more on this topic…)