The single biggest problem we have in performance management is waiting too long to address sub-par and/or low-quality work. The second biggest problem isn't even close in comparison! If we only did one thing as an organization, and it was to address poor performance the moment it happened, our organizations would perform a million times better!
"1 million times!", I said in my Dr. Evil voice! That's the official HR statistic from TSHRM, which is kind of like SHRM but it's actually just me (Tim Sackett HR Management).
Why don't we address sub-par performance immediately?
Here are a few potential reasons:
- We want to give them more time to continue to be sub-par
- We see that they're trying; they actually showed up 3 out of 5 days this week!
- Maybe they're just waiting to give a really great performance, next week. They don't want to give us all that great performance right away and set high expectations.
- It's cloudy outside.
- I need a haircut.
- I was Netflix binging.
- Oh look! Donuts!
Do you see where this is going? There are no reasons not to address sub-par performance right away. In fact, when you don't address low performance immediately, it's the same as telling them, "Yeah, that's great, just continue to be crappy, we're fine with that!"
But, you're not fine with that! You hate it. You stew about it. You talk to others about it. You do everything other than actually telling the person that the performance they're giving you is not satisfactory. That if you continue with this performance, I'm going to do something really, really nice and give you a gift. A gift!?
Yeah, a gift! That gift is going to be me releasing you from this employment opportunity so you can go find your true calling as a sub-par performer with our competition! Yeah! A gift!
Having "The Talk" to improve performance
Step #1 of having 'The Talk' with an underperforming employee is to have it the moment performance drops below par. We tend to want to wait and give people the benefit of the doubt. Instead, as a supervisor, you should do a quick check-in to first gain some understanding of whether the employees actually know what they're doing isn't considered performing. You can use the information you gain from this conversation to inform how you dole out your feedback, but make sure this all happens in a timely fashion!
When you wait to have this conversation, for weeks or months or years (yeah, we all have some of these), you're only confusing the employee. "Well, I've been doing it this way for weeks and no one had a problem with it!" Actually, we did, but we wimped out and didn't tell you...
That's never a good way to improve performance.
When you address sub-par performance immediately, it opens
up a performance-building conversation, not a "hey-you're-in-trouble"
conversation. This conversation, done right away, is actually one of the easiest
performance discussions you'll ever have as a supervisor!
Moving to the next step in addressing sub-par performance
You'll notice there isn't a Step #2. That's because if you do Step #1 you'll never need a Step #2. Waiting to address performance is the worst thing you can do as a supervisor. Having "The Talk" with an underperforming employee weeks, months, or even years too late is the second worst thing you'll do as a supervisor! So, don't do it!