22. How to Manage a Non-performing Employee


How Can I Effectively Manage a Non-Performing Employee?

This is a question I get asked across all types of businesses. It is a challenge for all leaders, but how can we make it easier for ourselves and easier for our team members?

 In this video, I set out a framework to help you develop a consistent approach to handling non-performing employees. If you want leadership training or coaching for your managers please send me a message or you can find out more information in the link in the comments.


Hi, welcome back. This is the third in the series of vid bites that we're covering off on questions that are commonly asked of me when I'm working with leaders across multiple organisations and the variations of these questions, of course. But this question here is how can I effectively manage a non-performer?

Now, this is a challenge for all of us, but we can make this easier for ourselves and easier for our team members.

Did you set clear expectations?

So the first step is did you or did you not set clear expectations up front with this individual? Because if you didn't... So if the answer was yes then we'll move on and I'll take you through a yes version and I'll take you through a no version. So, if you did set expectations up front, right, you've set yourself up for success to have this conversation.

What you need to do is you've identified the non-performance, you've gathered your data. So you need some real facts so you focus on the behaviour, it's not about the individual. So what do they do or not do and what did you request of them, and has that been clear, and then you can have that conversation.

Set Up a Meeting

So what you do is you set up the meeting and then send out ahead of time a clear reason for why you're meeting so the person has a chance to mentally prepare for it. When they rock up at the meeting they need to have had a chance to understood the questions so that they're, you know, they can think about, now I know this question, I know that they'll be asking these type of questions. I'll get my data to support why. And that's a valid step in the process.

So, when you actually get together with the person, you need to reset your objectives. Why am I here? You just reiterate pretty much what you send out on the email to set up the...or the appointment that you set up. So just re-clarify that, and there's the first step. So here we are today to discuss this. I'd like to present the situation as I see it, and I'd really like you to respond with your understanding of what happened and then we'll work through that and we'll get an outcome. So, then, once you've stated those concerns, this is what caused you to have this meeting, so these are the non-performance areas that have concerned you and you're having this conversation.

Focus on Facts

Remember to focus on the facts, and you need to listen to what their facts are. Now this is where it becomes tricky, because if they have failed to perform, and they know that up front, and they often do, what they'll have a tendency to do is to take you on a bit of a trip with lots of reasons and etc and they'll go off on a tangent. Okay, allow they to have that freedom to explore that, but they when they run out of steam, and they invariably do, bring them straight back to your original point and say, well thanks very much for that, but I'm really interested in getting a response to this question, did you or did you not do this? Or how you approach it, etc. 

So, keep bringing them back and after a while they'll realise very quickly that no matter what they say and trying to deflect your questions, they'll realise that you're gonna stay on mission. So once you do that, usually that's when they'll actually start to engage with you more honestly. And usually you get comments like, well yes, it's true I didn't do that and I gave you reasons why and then that leaves you to say, okay, given that you knew that was happening, what would have been the better outcome for you to do.

For example, if they'd come to you sooner, then you could have helped coach them or provide them with some additional resources that would have headed that situation off. So, you're trying to coach them towards realising that, yes they've been given a task, but when you actually task in the first place, you'd probably said that you would've supported them and come and ask me if you got any questions or queries.

Focus on the task

But, you know, people get focused on the task, and then they discover they can't do it or can't deliver, and then all of a sudden, they don't meet your expectations and then we're having this conversation. So, it's a good time then to reset those expectations. So, if they've learnt that the outcome they were delivering wasn't acceptable, acknowledge that, that's a really great step. Then you can have a conversation about, well, what would've been the better outcome, and then they acknowledge that, and then you get a commitment that say that on the future time is that's, this is what you do, then the next thing is to reset your expectations. 

Many of the expectations that you have in your team are shared expectations, but I'm critical about the fact that you also need to bring it right down to individual levels. So, yes, you've got some shared accountabilities, but you've actually got specific ones. So, for example a shared one could be, an expectation I have of you is that you will look after your own safety out there in the work place and you'll be cognitive of other's safety and you'll intervene to prevent a situation from happening. That's a shared one that you would have across your whole team. 

An individual one might be, Frank I need you to deliver this report no later than noon on a Wednesday. And that's your accountability. So that's very clear, it's not the team's, it's yours. So, once we've been clear about those things, then people can respond. So, once we get that in place, that would've been a conversation that would go through where you'd previously set those expectations. So, what if you haven't done that? Well, that's not gonna help your situation!

 And in fact, you're gonna have a conversation, but if you haven't preset the expectations with people, what I've identified is that people, you just go round and round in circle and there'll be nothing coming out of that meeting. And in fact, both people go away frustrated. So, my recommendation is, step back, acknowledge that you screwed up as the leader.

Be vulnerable

You should've set those expectations. Set them then. Say look, maybe you didn't get this outcome. This is being vulnerable. Maybe you didn't get this outcome because I didn't clarify my expectations of you up front. So, let me do that now, so that we can avoid this situation happening. Because the reality is they may not have delivered something because you hadn't done that. 

So give them the courtesy that, yes, you're taking a step back, and you're gonna have to wait a bit more time to see whether they actually step up and do perform, or not. Okay, so that's the absolute clue. You're wasting your time if you try and do anything else when you haven't previously set up the expectations. And then they know you're serious too. And they know that you're give them, cut them some slack and let them get on and perform. 

Now what happens when the non-performer goes consistently below the expectation? So, you've typically had some coaching interventions with them, brought it to their attention, they've committed to things and they haven't delivered. Right, after two or three times of that max, then you need to have, you need to step it up a bit.

You need to actually sit them down and then you lock them into a performance plan. So these are the minimal, if you like, expectations that you expect of them to deliver over the next two to three months. And then you say to them that we'll be reviewing this on a weekly basis. And so there'll be a trend.

You need to say if you're successful and sticking to this plan and reaching the level of performance that I expect, then anything that goes before is a clean slate. You're starting with a clean slate. But however, you need to also realise that if you don't respond to this plan, then that could lead to disciplinary action and therefore I have to escalate that to my immediate leader and this could lead to ultimate termination. So, be clear on your process. 

Now, most organisations have a policy and a process to follow. So, I suggest you start with your HR team if you have one, and ask them what the expectation of you as a leader, because that will help you know what you need to do in terms of this actually happening and degrading into a performance management plan.

The other thing to consider is, this will help you, what we've discussed here will help you anyhow. So I wish you well and all success on how I can effectively manage a non-performer?

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