Fixing Employee Performance Problems

This post originally appeared December 6, 2010 on

Crossoverphoto © 2007 Alex L | more info (via: Wylio)
A post this morning on the blog regarding how to deal with teams that resist change got me to thinking about how to deal with individual team members with performance problems. To me, resisting change is a performance problem, especially in projects, because projects are all about bringing change in an orderly and structured fashion. Having a team member who actively (or even passively) resists change can be extremely counterproductive for an otherwise high-performing group.

A lot of the advice in the blog post can apply to individual team members as well as entire teams, but I’d like to toss in my opinion on what has worked for me in the past. This isn’t meant in any way to be an exhaustive treatment of the subject, but something to spark your own ideas.

First, be timely in your recognition of the problem. The longer you wait to deal with the employee’s bad behavior, the more difficult it will be to change those behavior patterns. Yes, employees often know when they’re not being effective in their job and many will self-correct given a bit of time, but in fast moving projects we don’t always have the time to allow that employee to figure it out on their own. Waiting for their yearly performance assessment is a very bad way to spring on an employee that they’re not performing up to your expectations. They should know long before then that they need to improve.

Second, be clear and concise with your feedback. The language you use should leave no room for ambiguity and should be said in as few words as possible. Adding flowery language in order to take away some of the sting of the conversation is actually counterproductive in most cases as you’re undermining your own arguments with your employee.

Third, make it actionable. If you have a business analyst whose primary role is to perform solution validation and assessment activities, then bringing up their lack of development in enterprise analysis activities is probably not going to work out well for either of you. Make sure that whatever actions you want the employee to take is something that fits within their responsibilities.

Fourth, know what success looks like.Does an improvement that cuts down service request processing time by 50% make sense? What impact would such a change have on quality? Define success criteria and determine how these measures will be collected. Make sure that the success criteria drive the behavior you want, without compromising good behaviors the employee already has.

Fifth, agree on a plan of action. Sometimes the plan of action is dictated by the manager, but sometimes it is a collaborative effort between the employee and yourself. Regardless of who creates the plan, both the employee and yourself must agree to it for it to be effective. If the employee disagrees with the plan, they are likely to resist the actions it contains and unlikely to meet its goals.

Lastly, follow up regularly and include performance improvement milestones in your plan. Most importantly, make sure that you do the performance evaluations when you scheduled to do them. Review your action plan, step by step and see how the employee measures up to the success criteria that were defined. Focus on areas the employee is succeeding and where they need to improve more quickly. Adjust for any unexpected items that have happened, such as changes to the project schedule or non-work issues in the employee’s life.

What other advice do you have for those of us who manage people along with projects? What have you found successful in helping employees improve their performance