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Transforming Poor Performers into Positive Workplace Contributors

In a perfect world, hiring mistakes would never be made. Managers would effortlessly scout out the top talent, the most motivated and forward-thinking among the pack.

Back over here in reality though, we know that perfection isn’t possible. Even when you hire crewmembers who have seemingly boundless initiative and drive, outside factors — kids, family, illness and life in general — can undercut their workplace performance. Employees who are skilled at problem-solving may be able to overcome these issues on their own, though all struggling employees could benefit from some extra help and attention now and then.

With a bit of renewed focus and effort, it is possible to right the ship and transform poor performers into positive workplace contributors. Here’s how.

The Triple H Method

When you have an employee who is not meeting performance expectations, the last thing you want to do is come down on them like a ton of bricks or start issuing ultimatums. We’ve all been the newbie before or had personal worries infiltrate our workplace mentality and can vouch that threats and intimidation create an inflammatory undercurrent and not a realistic pathway to improvement.

That’s why I advocate that managers use the Triple H method. Sounds impressive and causes flashbacks to the wrestler of the same name, but I promise it relies on a much gentler implementation. It serves as a simple reminder to be honest, helpful and human when guiding poor performers — and really in all interactions with your team.

So, when you sit down with an underperforming employee, you should aim to be:

Honest: If an employee isn’t hitting the mark, they need to be made aware of where exactly they are falling short. Leaving them to essentially self-destruct without making an effort to help them remedy the situation isn’t and shouldn’t be an option. The negative impact of the unresolved issues will ripple throughout your team and spur even greater discord and potential performance problems. Instead, you should be honest and specific about the behaviors, skills or tasks that are not meeting expectations.

Helpful: While your job isn’t necessarily to “fix” the employee’s problems for them, you are there to help establish improvement goals and serve as a source of motivation and support. Whether that means pairing the teammate with a mentor or sending the employee through orientation again for a refresher, it’s vital that you foster a workplace culture where it’s safe to make mistakes and where self-improvement remains an option on the table.

Human: This one speaks for itself, right? Compassion, empathy, understanding — these are all of the traits that our own favorite managers and leaders have graced us with during our weakest moments. And now you can do the same for your team. Leaders don’t need to be emotionless robotic taskmasters, trying to whip people into line through sheer force and will. You can show your human side instead, maybe even share with the employee a time when you struggled to achieve a professional goal. This not only softens these sometimes stressful conversations but also represents an opportunity to deepen relationships — human to human.

Give the “Why”

For even the most experienced leaders and managers, discussions with employees who are falling short can be difficult to pull off. Being honest, helpful, and human helps reduce some of the awkwardness and anxiety that can creep up, but there’s one other thing you should be adding to the mix.

Always, always give the why. When you’re sitting down with an employee to discuss an improvement plan, you need to tell them why you’re setting these specific goals or offering this particular feedback. Maybe you’re the first manager they’ve had who actually showed some authentic concern for their wellbeing and career aspirations, so explaining why you want them to improve is key. Whether it’s because getting over this hump means that they’ll be eligible to move higher in the ranks or because you value their overall contribution to the team, this explanation of why creates a renewed sense of trust on top of boosting motivation and engagement too.

Progress, not perfection

And on a final note, remember that an employee may end up being a poor performer straight out of the gate or personal issues may sideline them later on down the road. Either way, this process of transforming struggling employees into positive contributors isn’t about perfection. We’re all fallible, so pushing for a culture in which perfection is the end all be all can paralyze your employees.

It’s much better to focus on progress — identify the shortfalls, make a plan for improvement and then work toward moving from point A to point B. With this route, your employees will always be heading in the right direction.

Carrie Luxem is a human resources professional specializing in the restaurant industry. In 2010, she founded Restaurant HR Group where she partners with dozens of restaurateurs to take care of their greatest assets — their people. With a career that has spanned nearly 20 years, Carrie is frequently sought out for her modern, yet simple and effective advice and has been featured in Entrepreneur, Restaurant News, and Independent Restauranteur. Connect with her on social media or learn more at CarrieLuxem.com 

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