businessman taking a decision with scale above his headWhat do you do when you face a failing employee? In the old days before the talent wars, you simply fired or dismissed the employee for performance following appropriate termination procedures and moved on to replace that worker.

But, it’s not as simple as that any more. Talent is scarce in today’s market, and there is no guarantee you can find a new candidate who can deliver better returns over the ensuing 12-month period than your failing employee in his or her current underperforming state or even in a repackaged and re-purposed state.

So, the question should not really be around whether you can fire an employee in the current climate, but whether you can rescue that employee and turn him or her around into, if not a superstar, at least a high-performing team member again. Another question is whether over the 12-month period you are likely to get a better return from reconditioning your current employee or going and getting a brand new one. And with it currently being a candidate’s market, you might find yourself embarking on a reconditioning strategy when dealing with failing employees. Below I have set out four steps to help you do this:

1. Identify performance paradoxes

On repeated occasions I have observed situations where an employee who is truthfully failing falsely thinks he or she is performing well. I call this the ‘performance paradox’. Why does this occur? Oftentimes because the manager has not clearly communicated his or her expectations to the employee and/or has not communicated back to the employee whether this worker has met those expectations. This failure to communicate can be down to many things such as:

  • manager not having time to provide feedback to the employee;
  • manager having a misguided expectation of mind reading;
  • manager having a poor relationship with the subordinate; and
  • manager not feeling comfortable providing feedback, or avoiding it due to fear of not being able to handle the potential conflict.

So, the first step in eliminating performance paradoxes is to make sure the employee is informed of his or her performance. It can be amazing what positive behavioral changes can occur simply as a result of the employee actually knowing there is a problem.

2. Set performance improvement goals

If you have told the employee about his or her performance issues, you can help to consolidate the situation and focus the worker’s behavior, increasing performance by setting  performance improvement goals that he or she needs to reach. But, don’t make it feel like the employee is walking the plank or else your worker may not be overly motivated. Encourage the person and show you are behind him or her by talking about future career progression opportunities, which can occur once this employee has turned his or her performance back around.

3. Intensive Coaching

It can seem counter intuitive to make a training investment in failing employees but that is exactly what I am suggesting  you do. If necessary, consider investing in some external executive coaching to help show you still value them and to help them to develop the right positive mindset to get them focused on meeting their behavioral improvement targets.

4. Redeployment

Now, the most powerful tool that you may have at your disposal for rescuing a failing employee is redeployment. Consider the Peter principle, which suggests that staff will be effectively promoted and promoted until they reach a position that is beyond their ability and fail.

If you have employees in this situation, you could consider redeployment to a more junior position or sideways to a similar position that has a reduced emphasis on the areas they are failing, or where their particular skills will be better received.

In fact, redeployment may be an option in many situations. If an employee is failing, try and diagnose their strength and weaknesses and identify other roles in the organization more suited to their profile—and redeploy them there.



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