How to deal with underperformers – without the awkward conversations

The fastest way to drive away a high performing employee is to tolerate an underperforming one.

One of the biggest energy suckages of any leader is dealing with underperforming employees, or harder still, the employees who are just doing enough but not shooting the lights out and probably exhibit some negative behaviours which start to annoy others.

What you ignore, you tolerate

I often ask leaders why do they accept the underperforming (or “just performing”) ones and their response is “I’m not”. And then I ask what conversations have you had with these people and often they haven’t yet. So they don’t want to accept it, but they haven’t done anything about it? But if they haven’t done anything about issue, they are technically accepting it…

Unfortunately that’s when your high performers get frustrated, and guess who’s more employable – the high performers, so guess who leaves, yep the high performers and you are left with the underperformers – doh!

So why don’t leaders do something about it quickly?

Well for a number of reasons. Here are some of the common ones:

  1. They don’t like having difficult conversations.
  2. The iceberg theory – for the 10% of the negative behaviour they are seeing, there is probably another 90% of the behaviour that other staff are seeing but the leaders are not. (Average performers can be a little clever like that.)
  3. Leadership isn’t their full time job which is especially the case in small businesses, and so the leader is often too busy to address the issues.

Here’s how to save yourself the awkward conversation and lift the bar:

  • Set up your Key BAM (Behaviour Activities and Mindset) Indicators. See this article for more detail on what these are. They are arguably more essential that setting up your Key Performance Indicators.
  • Set them out in the job description, then at the interview, then at the induction and then constantly reward people for when they exhibit the BAMs. Positive reinforcement is a far easier conversation to have a negative reinforcement conversations.
  • Consequences for not meeting BAMs also need to be clear right from the start. Something along the lines of “you are given the opportunity to lift your game quickly or you will be given the opportunity to work elsewhere” usually does the trick – and make use of probation periods for coaching the BAMs.

It’s no longer an awkward conversation as you’ve clearly articulated what’s expected. It becomes far more rational and far less emotional for everyone.

So performance management conversations are way easier and as a bonus you’ll be less likely to need some performance management conversations in the first place!

Leadership just got way easier and less awkward and time consuming, especially when leadership isn’t your full time job.

If you don’t set up your BAMS it’s an awkward conversation waiting to happen and you will have nothing objective to point to. Worse still, if you are highly sensitive to being liked, it gets even more awkward so you just ignore the behaviour.

So have your BAMs clearly articulated as part of the job description and referred to on a daily basis and leadership will take a lot less energy credits.

If you would like help with setting up and implementing your BAMs please do get in touch.