Good employees are hard to find. According to Glassdoor, the average U.S. employer spends $4,000 and 24 days making a hire, and then there’s the additional cost to train new employees to get them up to speed. That’s a significant amount of time and money, particularly for small businesses.
What happens if there are performance issues with an employee after all this investment? Someone that seemed to have great potential? Cutting bait too quickly isn’t productive for anyone and may cause anxiety or harm to both parties. So, how do you get back on track? Here’s a roadmap that’s helped us here at Salesforce.
First, identify the root problem
Improvements start with a conversation. Offering constructive feedback is difficult (there’s a reason Brene Brown calls them “courageous conversations”), but you can’t afford to put something like this off. The sooner you begin the discussion, the sooner the improvements can start. You’re not doing anyone any favors by ignoring or keeping quiet about performance issues. These things don’t often resolve themselves without some effort, and if an employee reacts with anger or acts defensive, you might gain additional insight.
Begin the conversation by stating documented facts and observations about their performance. Then share the impact it has on the business, their colleagues, and their work. Afterward, ask for their reaction. Perhaps there’s a distracting personal issue, or they’re caring for a family member that’s ill. Interpersonal issues (such as conflicts with teammates) can affect performance too. Or maybe they’re not bought into the company yet, so haven’t been making an effort. Whatever the issue is, you owe it to yourself, your team, and your company to get to the bottom of it. And, you owe it to your employee to inquire without making snap judgments.
Next, create an action plan
Once you’ve confirmed the root issue, create a collaborative action plan to help the employee get back on track. Experts often recommend to "contribute more than you criticize" in this situation, keep it positive and constructive. If the issue is personal, offer as much flexibility as you’re able, or try to advance-plan around the employee’s needs. If the problem is interpersonal, it’s best to nip it in the bud immediately. Try to work with the team to resolve any friction points, then provide clear responsibilities and swim lanes. If it’s project-based, bring the employee in earlier on the next project and allow them to be a part of the process.
This is a pivotal point in the process: the employee has to be invested in the plan or the effort is wasted. If he or she is simply going through the motions without any real effort, there’s not much point in continuing the conversation.
Support, support, support
Improving employee performance can be as simple as improving the overall workplace culture. A supportive work environment fosters happier, more engaged employees. Here at Salesforce, we conduct employee opinion surveys two times per year and then empower our employees to come up with solutions to improve the bottom scoring questions. Our process ensures employees are both free with their feedback and proactive with solutions.
Simple things like Start-Stop-Continue exercises have helped us get to the root of several issues and improve our day-to-day operations. The reason this strategy works for us is that it makes improvement a shared responsibility between employees, managers, and the leadership team. The key is to follow up afterward to see the results through to completion. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Know when to let go
Sometimes after you’ve had the conversation and set a plan, issues persist. So, how do you know when it’s time to let go? While my first instinct is always to help the employee, you need to consider the individual’s impact on your small business:
Is the individual's performance affecting others on the team?
How much time are you spending to manage this one employee?
Would any customer relationships be jeopardized if the person left?
How difficult/costly would it be to find a replacement for this employee?
Is there another employee who could step in if needed?
As a last resort, you’ll need to restart the performance conversation, adding in additional facts and observations. Only this time, offer a new plan with a specific timeline and benchmarks, so the employee understands what’s at stake. Actual improvement has to be employee-driven, so be sure to benchmark against the plan and communicate openly with your employee so that there’s transparency on how they’re doing.
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