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MANAGEMENT: What Managers Can Do to Address and Prevent Poor Performance
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alt Wang Lu is a department head of an IT company. Jack is a long-time employee who had been with the company longer than she had. Jack was well-liked, but everyone knew he wasn’t carrying his weight. He always had an excuse for why he wasn’t able to follow-through or complete projects on time. He was always “busy,” but lacked an ability to focus on the most important tasks. Wang Lu had tried to encourage Jack to get his work done on time and regularly dropped hints that the team needed more from him, but Jack didn’t change. Wang Lu felt stuck. She did not want to fire Jack, but did not know what other alternatives she had.

We all know that an under-performing employee hinders productivity and effectiveness, and drains team morale. And, we know that substandard performance is one of the most widespread problems in businesses today, regardless of the industry or location of the company. 

What most of us, like Wang Lu, don’t know is how to deal with those employees who are performing poorly. Thus, many managers inevitably blame the employee: their stubbornness, their personality, their lack of motivation, etc. But what if we, as managers, are actually more responsible than we realise? What if changing our management style and practices could make an impact not only on the poor performer, but get better outcomes from all employees?

Since a manager achieves results through other people, a manager’s primary job is to do everything she/he can to help her/his people succeed. If an employee fails, it's also the manager who has failed.

One way to manage more effectively is to intentionally reflect on what you can do to better support your employees. As you think about a poorer performer in your context, ask yourself:

1. How can I better encourage and build the confidence of my team member to try something new?

2. What can I do to extend trust to my employee, allowing him/her the freedom to make a mistake? How can I help him/her to learn from the inevitable mistake(s) along the way?

3. If the skills of the person do not match the expectations of what is being required of them, how can I provide (or help find) necessary training/coaching/mentoring?

4. What expectations need to be more clearly communicated, understood and agreed?   This is the #1 reason employees do not do what they are supposed to do, according to 25,000 managers from all over the world.  Employees do not know what they are supposed to do.

5. How am I following through to see whether this person has done the job?  This is the second most common reason for lack of performance.

6. What resources can I provide that will enable them to do the job more effectively?

7. How am I evaluating success? "I'll know it when I see it," isn't an objective or fair standard. How can I communicate these measures more clearly and proactively?

8. If there seems to be a motivational issue, what is behind that? What is the real issue?


Of course, in addition to asking ourselves these questions, it is also important to take time to ask the employee similar questions to better determine the actual cause of the poor performance and to invite them to provide feedback to you on how you can best support them in improving their performance.

Wang Lu took time to gather more information from Jack and to reflect on her contribution to the situation. She found out that Jack had been an excellent worker who had been promoted to a team leader role prior to her joining the company. She discovered that he lacked training in managing a budget. His position description was vague and did not provide clear KPI’s. He was embarrassed that he was not more disciplined about getting things done, but he didn’t want to look incompetent by asking for help.  He thought that since he was a team leader, he was expected to be competent in all things. Too much of his energy was being spent managing his anxiety about his role, rather than doing it well or learning what he needed to succeed.

Wang Lu realised that she could help Jack improve in several ways, thereby benefitting Jack, the team, and the company.

By focusing on what you as a manager can do about poor performance, you have many more options to help your employee, your company, and yourself. These questions also work well for helping any team member to improve his/her contributions. So, give it a try! Choose an employee, ask yourself these questions, and see how you can facilitate improving not only that employee’s performance but that you will become a better leader in the process. 
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