Dealing with Low Performers

Dealing with unsatisfactory performance is a necessary, but often undesirable task for any leader. Since it is a key factor in any facility, any shift, any department, or any work team, being effective in this area is a key attribute for any leader. Let’s look at the reasons why so many of us struggle in this area and some suggestions for being more effective with dealing with low performers.

Why we struggle:
1.Leaders are busy. With so many things to do every day, dealing with performance issues can get pushed aside. Sometimes we get so caught up with the seemingly urgent, that we miss the important.

2.Many leaders just don’t like negative, potentially confrontational discussions. We just don’t like to deliver negative feedback. We therefore avoid the matter altogether, or we water it down to the point of not being effective.

3.Many leaders struggle with the balance of relating to employees in an engaging manner and still holding them accountable for performance results. Some get too close and don’t hold accountable due to their relationship becoming too much of “one of the crew”. Others can become too callous and not be effective in correcting performance because they continually stress what’s wrong with never delivering a path to success.

4.Too many leaders accept below average performance because they don’t want to deal with the need to change. Sometimes a known problem is thought to be better than an unknown future.

Regardless of the reason why so many struggle with dealing with low performers, it is imperative that we have a plan for being effective in this area of leadership and act on it.

Steps for being more effective:
1.Realize it is your responsibility as a leader to deal with people and issues that are negatively impacting the team’s performance. It is your job. If someone is not following a safety rule, what could happen if you don’t address it? If someone is not adhering to a quality requirement for a customer, what could happen if you don’t address it? If someone is just not meeting production standards or facility needs, what could happen if you don’t address it? We are talking about lives (safety), jobs (if we don’t maintain customers), and jobs (if we don’t run successful plants). There’s a lot at stake, and leaders need to address issues. That’s what leaders do. If you aren’t going to do it, then don’t take a leadership role. That’s why you address performance concerns.

2.Be timely. Feedback is not effective if it is not timely. That’s when you address performance concerns.

3.Always address the behavior or the performance of the person, not the person. We aren’t attacking a person’s self-worth, we are addressing behavior. It is not personal, it is performance. Be careful how you phrase comments. Don’t attack. Don’t put people on the defensive. Simply state the facts (here’s what’s required and here’s how you are performing), ask why, and give the person a chance to talk. Remember the SORRY technique. By asking why, we can transition into reasons and possible paths to resolving the issue and improving the performance. Give them feedback on progress if there is a plan for improved performance. The goal is to get improved performance. That’s how you address performance concerns.

Remember, this issue isn’t about you, it’s about the collective best interest of the team you lead. Growing up, I played various sports and had various coaches over the years. I don’t know that many of them ever really handled performance issues in a constructive manner. I had a JR High football coach that would hold my face mask and slap my helmet every time I would make a bad pitch or throw. He wasn’t afraid of confronting a bad play, but he did it out of anger. His reactions never helped me at all. You can’t address issues out of anger. If you are angry, you aren’t in a state of mind to effectively deal with performance issues. Be timely, but wait until your emotions are under control.

I had another coach view our poor performance as an embarrassment to him and was more worried about what people thought of him than anything else. If you are wrapped up in what others think of you, then you need to start thinking of those you lead first and let your actions be focused on their well-being and success; not your reputation. That’s a leadership reminder for all of us.

One thought on “Dealing with Low Performers

  1. I particularly enjoyed this post. It addressed some issues that exist in my own leadership experience. Thank you, Doug!


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