Coping with problem employees

It's a hassle coping with employees who aren't doing the job. For many of us, it's also uncomfortable—not to mention the time it takes away from doing the things you want to do, the things that grow the business. Still, it's the job, and at some point we've all got to deal with it. Here are 6 questions you might want to ask when you're looking to get a poorly performing staffer back in line—or maybe just out the door.

Do you understand the standards you are expected to meet? “If you start by presuming they get the job expectations and they just don’t want to meet them, you never really get to the heart of the problem,” says Joan Lloyd, a Milwaukee management consultant. Managers are frequently at fault for failing to communicate expectations clearly; if you discover the problem early, however, it’s an easy one to fix.

Do you feel you’ve been trained appropriately for this position? Laura McNerney, president of Hospitality Resource Group in White Plains, New York, recommends asking the employee to suggest areas in which additional training would be useful; you should add your own suggestions. “Then it becomes a coaching situation, rather than something punitive,” McNerney says.

What can you do to improve? “Put the onus on the employee to offer solutions,” says Bob McKenzie of McKenzie HR in Jacksonville, Florida.

How can I, as your manager, help you? You may want to schedule regular meetings to check in with the employee or pair him with a more experienced staffer in a mentoring relationship. “You have to provide some support—and support is not yelling at someone,” says McKenzie. “That never works; people do not get motivated by fear.”

Do you understand the consequences of not meeting performance standards? “If you’ve had several conversations with the employee and things aren’t improving,” Lloyd says, “you’ve got to move to the consequences: ‘You could lose your job.’” While it may be uncomfortable to be so explicit, it’s essential that the employee understand exactly what’s at stake. “One of the mistakes people make is they’re not honest with their employee and they try to drive them out with poor treatment, which is just disrespectful,” Lloyd adds.

Do you think this job is for you? It’s always easier if the employee is the one to verbalize that it’s just not going to work out. If your employee isn’t quite ready to go there, the onus is on you to deliver the bad news. “Being clear about your standards means you can say, ‘The expectation is X and you’re doing Y,’” says McKenzie. “That means when you talk about a termination you are basing it on facts, not inference or emotions.”

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