The way we address underperformers can make or break efforts to improve poor results and to sustain outstanding ones. Turning a blind eye to those who perform poorly prevents solutions but giving too much attention to them neglects our top performers. Striking a balance is challenging, but possible.
In every department, unit or team there will be those who perform well and those that don’t. For some, dealing with poor performers poses a set of challenges. Sometimes we don’t want to approach the employee because we want to avoid hurting their feelings.
There is certainly nothing wrong with wanting to avoid hurting someone. But to address poor performance is to take the risk that the employee will in fact be hurt. There is no approach to addressing poor performance that does not include this risk. In a situation like this, we need to make a tough choice. Do we want to avoid upsetting someone or do we want to fix the problem? Unfortunately, we usually can’t get both.
Avoiding delivering negative feedback may prevent the poor performer from getting hurt, but it may inadvertently hurt those who are doing well. Top performers notice when their colleagues are not pulling their weight, but are often reluctant to confront them. Your stars see this as your job, not theirs.
When you let that poor performance go unaddressed, your stars become resentful and very quickly their frustration with their peers turns into frustration with you. In this scenario your stars may feel hurt, ignored and unappreciated. If top performers feel wronged, there is a serious risk that they could become disengaged, making it difficult for you to sustain their performance.
Other times, we get so caught up in our own responsibilities that we don’t even notice when employees are doing poorly. It is certainly understandable that senior managers are busy, and cannot see everything that goes on. But, there really is no excuse for being totally ignorant of who on the team is pulling their weight and who is not. Being aware of how your employees are performing is the essence of any manager’s job. Don’t rely on what you might happen to see; make an effort to initiate discussions with your employees to “check in” with how everyone is doing.
For some management, putting off negative feedback can backfire and be detrimental to their career. When we put off giving bad news, it builds, and builds until we reach the end of our rope. When it gets to that point, the point where we can’t hold it in any longer, we let loose and may just tear a strip off of the offending employee. This kind of reaction never works. The employee becomes defensive or withdraws, leaving the problem unsolved and both parties an emotional mess.
While avoiding addressing poor performance can be a problem, so can focusing too much attention on it. When too much of our time is spent with those who do not perform well, there is not sufficient time spent on rewarding and recognizing those who are doing well. And your stars will see this.
There are some people who crave any attention, even the attention that poor performance provides. When we respond by spending a tremendous amount of time and energy on helping them, we may be reinforcing their poor performance, and neglecting great performers.
Try to ensure that problems with performance are addressed as soon as possible. This way we avoid blowing our top and messing up our working relationships, and we give employees a chance to address the problem before it gets out of hand. As well, try to create regular performance discussions with all your employees, outside of formal evaluations. This way, we give equal time and energy to both praising the stars and helping the others.