By: Revanche

HBR: Managing underperformers

September 5, 2008

I love this little tip for a more positive, productive approach to addressing an underperformer. It acknowledges past performance, if there was any, and emphasizes communication which is so much better than just imposing a top-down decision meant to “fix” the employee without actually interacting with him or her:

Budgets are too tight, margins too close. You simply can’t tolerate underperforming employees. But replacing deadwood is arduous and time-consuming. Plus, successors need months to start producing value.

So, take a shot at improving unsatisfactory performance–especially if the employee has shown value in the past. One common cause of poor performance is confusion over expectations. Ask the employee to list the three most important things he’s paid to do. Do the same exercise for him. Most likely, the two lists will differ dramatically. Use them to align expectations more clearly. You can then help your employee focus on doing the right things.

Adapted from “Will You Help or Heave Your Underperformers?” by Paul Michelman, Harvard Management Update, March 2004.

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