This is possibly one of the most stressful conversations a leader and employee can have. Although it’s always going to be a hard one to have without sounding confrontational, it’s crucially important to tackle this conversation proactively – and as early as possible.
Of course sub-par performance could be due to a huge range of factors – inside and outside the workplace. After all, we’re all people. Which is exactly how the conversation should be approached – with the individual person and their circumstances front of mind.
Here are couple of strategies that could be good starting points for how to tackle this all-important but tricky [difficult] conversation.
Modify the role for a motivated employee who might be lacking in competency
We all know that good people with a great attitude are hard to find. Some leaders believe that attitude is everything. If you have a good employee who shows up on time, is a positive influence on the team and is motivated to do a good job, you don’t want to lose them!
It’s not uncommon for an employee’s skills and competencies to be below the role they were hired for. If your employee has become overwhelmed with this ‘gap’, they will stick with what they know, and naturally perform the other tasks at a below-par standard. We’re all human, right?
In this scenario, the conversation is all about making the employee feel appreciated and psychologically safe. Talking to them about crafting a role and responsibilities to suit their strengths will make them feel more confident – and set the scene for fair and reasonable expectations for both parties going forward.
Motivating unproductive employees
Making excuses, procrastinating, running ‘everything’ (unnecessarily) past their manager – there are many signs that an employee is lacking in motivation.
Running ‘everything’ by a manager could be a sign of your employee wishing someone else would do the work – or perhaps a feeling of not having enough autonomy in their role.
Although these are very different issues, either way, the employee is unproductive.
In this scenario, the conversation should be centred on what is important to the employee ie what are their current goals, what do they hope to get out of this job, where do they see their career going? Most importantly, the leader should ask how they can support the employee in achieving their goals. For some employees, having this conversation with their manager on a regular basis – even outside of a formal appraisal process – is key in maintaining motivation (as well as productivity).
The key in this scenario is taking action. While having the conversation will give the employee (and leader) confidence, it means nothing without action ie specific goal-setting, additional responsibilities and perhaps a potential future promotion structured around achievement of agreed goals.
Setting ambitious goals
Goal setting isn’t just key to motivating unproductive employees – it’s important for all employees.
Once you’ve identified whether you’re dealing with an attitudinal or competency problem, the key thing is to empower our employees with goals and a reputation to live up to.
In his famous book How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie talks about the theory of ‘giving a dog a good name’. This is essentially about telling unproductive people that you’re excited to see them smash their targets.
Here’s an example of how this conversation might go: I know there’s nobody more qualified to pull this off than you!
Show your employees that you have every confidence in them. Give them a reputation of high productivity and there’s a good chance they will live up to it.
What’s the key to these tricky situations? You guessed it – communication.
At Kingston Human Capital, we often talk internally about the value of a ‘no surprises’ workplace.
What this means is that no team member, irrespective of ‘rank’ should be shy or nervous to raise issues and concerns as soon as they arise. With this ‘no surprises’ approach, issues and concerns don’t have the opportunity to grow in to something ugly.
Kingston Human Capital specialise in helping great leaders recruit and build great teams.
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