How to turn performance problems around

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That's it, I've had enough!
That's it, I've had enough!

I’m sure we’ve all had them; the problem performer. The person in the team who seems to drain the very lifeblood out of everyone else like some kind of psychic vampire. The person who pours scorn on every new initiative and finds a thousand reasons why the latest change can’t work.

Is it worth investing time and energy in such individuals or would it be better to look at some kind of exit strategy? After all, as Robert Holden says, it’s awful when people quit and leave but it’s worse when they quit and stay.

This article considers a coaching approach for turning these situations around.

It’s not just your problem

The great temptation, and indeed the preferred tactic at many an organisation, is just to put up with it. Your own internal dialogue may run along these lines: “I know Dave can be a miserable old so and so and he does wind everyone up, but he posts good numbers and the customers seem to like him” What you can’t assume is that the rest of the team will take a similarly philosophical approach. Dave may be having a terribly demoralising effect of everybody else and they’ll also be looking to you to see how you handle the situation. Conflict is usually uncomfortable and most of us prefer to avoid it, but you may end up with a bigger problem down the line.

Take action quickly

The best time to deal with any kind of performance problem is when it first occurs. Try to resist the temptation to write off a difficult incident as a “one-off”

Also, it’s very difficult to discuss problems some time after they’ve have happened and can lead to a pantomime style, “Oh yes you did. Oh no I didn’t” conversation.

Try to understand the behaviour and the causes before giving up

You may feel like taking a stand and just finding a way for you and your under performing employee to part company, but remember:

  • Other people will be watching to see how you handle things
  • Firing someone for the wrong reasons or in the wrong way can be very, very costly
  • You may miss an opportunity to uncover a bigger issue which solving would bring wider benefits

Give feedback

There’s buckets of advice on ways to give effective feedback which I’ll not repeat here, but I offer a simple model for now:

A       Action                   This is what you did

I         Impact                   This is the result and impact of what you did

D       Development        This is what needs to change

Coach and ask the employee for their own solutions

Eventually you’re going to have to involve the employee and recognise that they must take ultimate responsibility for changing things. This is where a coaching conversation organised around some carefully constructed questions can be invaluable.

Agree a specific course of action with timescales

Make sure you follow up and make sure you subtlely but sincerely praise any change and improvement.

Finally, recognise that articles like this that present checklists and step by step formulas can only ever be a guide. Always remember that the person concerned is a fellow human being struggling on life’s journey. They are not a problem; they have a problem.

Matt Somers

Matt Somers

Matt Somers is the UK’s leading trainer of managers as coaches. His coaching skills training programmes, books, articles and seminars have helped thousands of managers achieve outstanding results through their people.

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