Ideally, managers would never have to worry about underperforming employees. Employees would come into an organization already possessing the necessary skills for the job, they would easily adapt to changing workplaces and responsibilities, and if they were lacking in any areas, they would eagerly put in extra hours and training to reach their full potential. But unfortunately, many employees do not meet this ideal. Instead, some slip through the interview process and come into an organization under-prepared. Others fail to progress with changing times and responsibilities. And some just don’t get it, and they make no attempts to improve their performance.
Although it’s a conversation few managers want to have with their employees, many managers choose to address employee weaknesses head on, a nationwide survey from NFI Research found. According to the survey, the top course of action in dealing with weaknesses in others is to discuss the weakness. The next leading courses of action are to provide additional training, support, regular meetings and then put them on notice.
“It is better to address issues head on and try to correct them than it is to bury or ignore them,” one respondent said. “Sometimes, however, it is not possible to fix. You can reach a person’s limits, which means you either lower the mark or, in the extreme, replace the person if the job has changed and now requires more.”
Many executives and managers frequently reach the limits of others—only 20 percent of senior executives and four percent of managers said they are extremely successful at correcting weaknesses in others to meet the manager’s expectations or requirements.
“We try to be clear about expectations and ensure the employee has the tools to do the job,” said one respondent. “If it becomes apparent their skill level is lacking, we’ll explore training them, which may include probation. After a period of time if they cannot meet the demands of the position, we let them go. If you don’t, other employees quickly accept that lack of accountability, resent you’re not dealing with it and make it a broader negative issue.”
There are times that the person and the task or job are no longer a fit, but the challenge is to identify it sooner rather than later for the benefit of both parties.
“We often do a disservice to those who are under-performing,” said another survey respondent. “It is far better to address the weaknesses directly, determine whether remediation is possible, and if not, allow the employee and the organization to move forward in separate directions. Often an employee not successful in one organization can be very successful in another. As managers, we owe it to them to pursue other opportunities.”
“The first step always has to be to improve performance, second is to reassign where (there is a) better chance of performance being acceptable (and) finally, they have to go,” another respondent said.
Businesses have varying ways of dealing with the issue of weaknesses in employees, many leading to ending employment if the situation is not ultimately resolved.
“I put habitual underachievers on a formal performance improvement plan with very specific, time-measurable and quality measurable milestones and deliverables,” one manager said. “I give them the benefit of coaching and mentoring and frequent dialogue sessions to understand how they are doing. If they fail in this environment for two successive six-month intervals, I will terminate them.”