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There are only three options when managing poor performance.

An under performer in your team can be frustrating, bad for morale and can harm productivity – especially when they are under performing by choice: they can do it, they just won’t because they lack either the motivation or the confidence. 

A leader needs to be clear on the three possible outcome in this situation – and then only offer two of them.  

Just about every manager out there knows the frustration of dealing with an under performer, someone who’s not hitting the expected standards and who resists every effort to get them there. 

Are they a ‘won’t do’ or a can’t do?  

Of course, we should clarify. You may have someone in the team who is not performing at the required level but who has only been with you a short period of time, who hasn’t got the skill levels, who hasn’t had the opportunities and experience to deliver at the level that you would like them too. That person’s easy. They just want more training, they want more skill building, they want more coaching from you. What we’re really talking about here is that under performer who can do it, but won’t.  

Three options – but we really mean two! 

As a corporate trainer, I believe every person can be developed. As a business person and as a realist, I know that they have got to want to develop themselves in order for that to be successful. In my view, there’s really three choices that each person has if they are underperforming:  

  1. They can stay and improve which is fantastic – we get the benefit of their experience and we get to develop that person 
  2. They can leave, which is regrettable but that might be the option 
  3. They can stay and not improve. 

Now when I say there are three options, I really mean there’s two, because that final option is not an option. The one outcome I won’t accept is having someone stay and continue to underperform.  

Never allow someone to be comfortable with poor performance 

The golden rule I work with is never, never, ever allow someone to be comfortable with poor performance. That doesn’t mean I will make them inappropriately uncomfortable. I have to be careful about the strategies I use and the approach I use. It’s got to be ethical, it’s got to be legal. But I should never let them feel comfortable about the fact that they’re underperforming. 

When you make someone uncomfortable, that’s a situation people don’t want to be in. 

To rectify that, they have two choices:

1. They can move up

2. They can move out. 

Either are fine! I’m really happy for them to improve and stay, I’m less happy but I accept that they may need to go. But the one outcome I can’t accept is having them stay and not improve. 

Making people appropriately uncomfortable. 

The big question is “How do I ethically and legally make someone uncomfortable with their poor performance?” Making someone uncomfortable with poor performance could take many forms. It might be greater reporting, it might be more meetings with the manager to discuss the kind of performance and desired outcomes, it might be asking someone to focus on their core tasks rather than the ones they really want to do. 

As long as it’s related to getting them to perform at the required level and as long as that level is reasonable, then it’s a good process. 

In one organisation we worked with, one of the employees hated being held accountable for their outcomes. However, this person also consistently failed to deliver on deadlines. The manager came up with a great approach. Every morning and every evening they sat with this person and debriefed their progress for the day and then the progress towards the agreed deadlines. 

Of course, this employee, hating accountability as they did, was really uncomfortable about those regular meetings. The manager held out the carrot: “As soon as performance hits the required level, we can back the frequency of the meetings off. Eventually, we can taper them out all together.” 

In that organisation, it was about a two month turnaround. Over that period, this employee regularly started to meet deadlines, the meetings were dropped and the process of making them uncomfortable with poor performance had been effective. 

Thank you for watching this short video. I hope you can use the tips and strategies we’ve talked about here to bring everyone’s performance up to the level that you would like to see.    

Being a great leader. 

Excellence in leadership is all about what you do – and not who you are. To help embed great leadership habit we have created six free and inspirational wall posters. Print them out and display them in full colour as a constant reminder of great leadership habits.