Tolerating substandard performance from others is a time drain. We have to more quickly determine who is coachable and who needs to either be moved to another role with a better fit or exited.
I see people wasting so much time talking about a weak employee. We need to get better at figuring out who can be a contributor and who is going to slow us down.
It’s human nature to want to give people the time and room to succeed. But there’s a difference between investing in growing talent, having “B” players on your team (which has proven to be important) and continuing to invest in those who consistently aren’t meeting performance standards. It’s difficult to let people go and others may perceive it to be mean, which can make it more difficult, especially for women. There are strong, socialized gender roles and cultural codes that reinforce that women especially shouldn’t be “not nice,” that we’re supposed to be compassionate. So, it’s tough to do, but you need to be fair but realistic.
What To Do (Bites)
You don’t have time for mediocre performers. Assess early and often
Your job is to coach and develop direct reports to meet or exceed their potential. You’re doing it for them and for you. Great leaders know they’re as good as the people they surround themselves with, which is why you often see leaders moving in small packs. But, if you have a team member who isn’t pulling their weight, it takes down your efficacy and that of the team. Period. Neither you or your team have time or emotional energy for that.
Classic signs of mediocre or low performance and de-railers
Repeatedly not meeting their goals (timing, quality), poor productivity, poor quality of work, consistently have difficulty working with others. Mediocre or poor performance is a pattern: apathy, low emotional EQ, chronically dissatisfied. Remember, behavior doesn’t occur in isolation. When something happens once, chances are you’ll see it again and again. Pay attention. Look for trends.
When you have been honest and direct with your feedback, provided clear direction on how to improve, and still haven’t seen enough improvement, it’s time to take action. Do what needs to be done in your organization to a) let the right people know what you’re going to do and why, and b) put the individual in the right opportunity. That should include helping to identify the role and/or environment that’s best suited to that person – internally or elsewhere. Be fair, but don’t delay. His/her performance will be a drag on the whole team’s. It also sends signals to others about the performance you’re willing to accept.
Check that you are setting clear expectations for what a complete output should look like, that the project scope aligns with capacity, that the surrounding support (e.g. people, financial resources, time) aligns with scope, and that you’ve provided clear direction in follow-up conversations. If not, make this a priority.
Be super clear on what success looks like and provide frequent and clear feedback on where gaps are. Radical Candor underscores the risk of high care, low direct challenge strategies for performance management. If you struggle to give direct, honest feedback so as not to hurt someone’s feelings, you’re undermining their success and chances for improvement. Tough conversations are tough, but it’s unfair to do otherwise.
Don’t lower your expectations or give more chances. It will all come back to bite you in time and performance. As long as you treat them fairly and with respect, you can feel confident you’ve done the right thing.
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