Perhaps the most difficult job a manager faces is dealing with an employee that just isn’t performing up to expectations. Even if you’ve been coaching them all along and their performance is no surprise to them, taking the formal steps to manage them out of your organization is painful for both of you. With any luck, they already have another position lined up. Regardless of how well prepared they are, you need to be prepared.
The first step is to give the employee a fighting chance to redeem themselves, as soon as the performance problem becomes apparent. Remember, that it is always less costly to correct the trajectory of a misguided rocket than to destroy it. In a fast-paced environment, we may not always take the time to explain assignments and acceptable outcomes. We tend to raise the bar to the level of our best performers because that’s easier for us! Take that under-performing employee aside and use a coaching session to explain the behaviors that are causing you alarm and build an action plan. Typically, this will involve a series of assignments that can be objectively measured.
It is important for the employee to understand their position is at stake. Your company may have a formal process for this; one company I worked for called it the “performance improvement plan.” Company process or not, this discussion and plan needs to be documented. It is best if it is dated and signed by the manager and the employee.
The next step is weekly follow-up on the plan. Are they making progress against the deliverables and the deadlines? Do they have the tools, contacts and resources they need to complete on time, with quality? Are they using them properly? Coaching an employee through this difficult time to a successful outcome could create the best, most loyal employee on your team. You also use these reviews to document fundamental skill gaps (relative to job requirements) and behavioral issues impacting performance on the job.
If the outcome of the performance improvement plan indicates the skill/behavior/job expectations gap cannot be rectified, a good leader will seek potential good fit in other areas of the company. This is not an opportunity to avoid your responsibility and “pass the trash.” This is the honest attempt to save your company the cost of onboarding and culturally molding a new employee. But if there are no good fits, you must terminate the employee; you aren’t helping anybody by retaining them any longer.
The care that you took in building a performance improvement plan, documenting and coaching through the intermediate and final results, as well as your efforts to place them elsewhere within the company will be appreciated by the employee, the HR Department in your company and your corporate attorneys.