I spent over two decades of my corporate career in various roles in Human Resources and as a result, had TONS of conversations with managers about how to deal with their employees or teams when their performance wasn’t ‘up to snuff’. Quite often, their initial ‘remedy’ was to suggest training, but training isn’t always the answer for performance issues.
Training (when done well) imparts specific skills and/or knowledge. It’s most useful when targeted and narrowly focused on a particular topic and is attended by people who are willing to learn but not able to do the specific task.
Training’s effectiveness is enhanced greatly when employees can immediately implement the new skills or knowledge back on the job. So it’s best when a group of people need to improve on the same areas. Training an entire department when only one or two people need it is a waste of company resources.
One reason training often ‘fails’ is because managers think one or two days of concentrated training will turn their errant person into a super star and unfortunately, that rarely happens. The value or ROI (return on investment) of training therefore, is improved when it is supplemented by some sort of follow up activities that reinforce the new abilities and behaviors over time.
[I have experienced some powerful 2- to 3-day personal development programs that generate dramatic mental beliefs and emotional perspective shifts in people that result in new behaviors but those are unfortunately not the types of programs generally offered in the workplace.]
One of the major values that coaching brings is its ability to produce sustained growth and change over time. People are creatures of habit and habits don’t alter significantly after 1 day of training. The effectiveness of coaching requires that a person be willing and able to move forward productively.
Sometimes people are thrust into coaching because they are good as most aspects of their job but demonstrate some counterproductive behavior that is impeding their performance. If those people aren’t willing – deep in their hearts – to change, coaching won’t produce lasting change. (A good coach will recognize when someone is going through the motions and either challenge the person to ‘step up’ or will terminate the coaching relationship if they don’t.]
In a collaborative, productive coaching relationship, the coachee develops critical thinking skills by being guided to tap into his/her own internal resources to reach decisions. Rather than becoming reliant on the coach, the coach becomes a springboard for the ‘clients’ own self-development.
Coaching can really accelerate the career momentum of an already effective person and make them even better. With coaching, people can improve their leadership presence, strategic thinking and credibility in the workplace.
Close management is useful when a person is able but perhaps not so willing to perform. Management involves keeping someone on a ‘short leash’ by instituting short-term goals, objectives and consequences or outcomes. ‘Hit this quota’ or ‘produce this result by this date’ are examples of management tactics.
Tight management may include frequent ‘check ins’ to make sure the right behaviors that should produce the result are being enacted on a consistent basis.
Managing a person who is not able to perform a particular task won’t be enough to get the job done. In fact, piling on the additional pressure of short term goals will likely raise their anxiety and reduce performance. This person needs training, coaching or some other sort of ability development process.
When a person is not willing or not able (after the above development efforts have been tried), it might be time to ‘fire’ them.
As an HR executive, I would occasionally have managers drop in my office saying “I need to fire “So-And-So”. I would always ask ‘why’ and inevitably they would say, “They aren’t getting the job done.”
When I would then ask, “What did they say when you spoke to them about this?” and often heard, “I haven’t talked to them. They should just know better!”
Well, employees can’t read your mind. You must tell them clearly what your expectations are. You should then give them time to correct the situation.
Even in an employment-at-will state, it’s dangerous to fire someone ‘just because’ because juries generally tend to side with employees and the company (and maybe even the manager) could be left with an expensive lawsuit or complaint filed against them.
If you do get to the point when termination is the answer, always do it with dignity. The employee may have just been in the wrong job for his or her skill set.Perhaps YOU made the wrong hiring decision.Perhaps business has caused a change in the job requirements.
I remember working with one astute manager who said she never had to ‘fire’ a person but had several under-performing employees who had been ‘counseled out’.
She was so caring and sincere and skilled in counseling conversations, the employees always left of their own volition, happily looking for a job where they could shine and be happy. They rarely knew she was ‘trying to get rid of them’ and always felt empowered by the separation.
So, next time you’re confronted with an under-performing person or team, use the above distinctions to pinpoint the most effective remedy and you’ll get a higher return on your investment.