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How to Move Under-Performers Up or Out of Your business

Take stock of the employees in your company; most likely you have already mentally classified them into categories of nonperformers, underperformers, average performers, or super performers. Hopefully, you have the majority of your people in the super performer bucket, but in all likelihood, you have a mix of all four types.

As the business environment becomes more complex and even more litigious, it's important to know how to deal with each of the 4 groups for two very different and yet related reasons: Risk Management and Productivity Management. With the concept in mind that you are only as strong as your weakest member the following will provide insight into how to address those in the non performer and under performer buckets.

Generally, nonperformers and underperformers fall into 2 extreme categories:

  • Culture Challenge: Those who were hired because a role needed to be filled in the worst way, but their attitude and behavior do not fit the cultural environment.

  • Culture Fit: Those who are likable, eager to please and willing to do whatever you ask. Because they are so in sync with the culture, you just can't bring yourself to let them go. It is not an easy decision in dealing with those who try hard to please you, especially if they've been around for a period of time and have failed their way from one position to another, all the while trying hard to be successful.

In either of these two cases, the following is a solid, compassionate management approach you can follow to move non performers or under performers up or out.

  1. Set clear expectations:

    Many entrepreneurs are long on results and short on clarity. Many times, we think everyone comes to us with a highly developed sense of ESP, and then we are disappointed when they don't have it. To make sure you've been clear, have the person repeat or write down the expectations as they have heard them. Then you can clarify and confirm what's supposed to happen (or not).

  2. Set realistic expectations:

    One of the questions you periodically have to ask is really quite simple: Could anyone do what I'm asking of this person? If the answer is "No", then modify your expectations. If the answer is "Yes", modify your instructions so that you're giving the person the recipe for success.

  3. Ask yourself, if people don't follow the recipe, do they have a "will" problem or a "skill" problem?

    If it's a will problem, explain in your most persuasive leadership style who's in charge and why actions have to be taken as you have requested. If it's a skill problem, provide the training necessary for them to be successful. If/when it becomes apparent that no amount of training will improve performance, change the circumstances by moving them to another position that matches/fits them or help them find a position somewhere else.

  4. Use a multi-tiered disciplinary system that includes:

    • Performance counseling and coaching;
    • Verbal Warning;
    • Written Warning;
    • Dismissal
  5. When replacing the person, make sure that you can answer "Yes" to all three of the following questions:

    • Does the applicant get it?
    • Does the applicant want it?
    • Does the applicant have the capacity to do it?

Some of you may be thinking that there's nothing new here and that you already know these things. You're right - there's nothing new in this approach. As always, the challenge is, do you follow them? 


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