It’s a question I’m getting more often from clients in these trying days…weeks…months…
“One of my top performer’s numbers continue to drop even though our business is improving. What’s the best way to get him back on track?
First, keep in mind that it’s business UNusual for everyone right now, so before talking with your employee, step back and view the situation through multiple lenses.
The industry is in a double-digit decline over 2019. Clients have laid off staff and put projects on hold. In professional staffing, job orders are harder to get but moving in a positive direction. And while the demand for temps is back in light industrial and healthcare staffing, getting candidates back to work is a challenge.
But beyond the business challenges there are a myriad of other factors to consider in getting to the bottom of what’s really driving his performance slide.
Many are trying to work from home while managing the needs of children or elderly relatives during the workday. So because they’re working with interruptions and distractions, their results may be inconsistent.
Some are preoccupied by underlying anxiety and fear due to the pandemic and not fully engaged in their work.
And if your employee is used to the buzz of the bullpen in the office, he is likely missing the collaboration with his peers.
Add to all this that you’re not right there to coach him through the tough days and conditions are ripe for lower productivity.
In the past, one conversation with your employee might do the trick. But in today’s conditions, managing a worker you want to retain through a performance slide requires unique approaches.
Here are three steps to supporting an underperforming employee right now:
- Before talking with your employee, consider all that’s changed since mid-March.
Prior to the pandemic, most leaders might have reflexively presumed the problem was the result of disengagement, burnout, and/or a poor attitude about the job itself. While these often play some role in underperformance, they rarely account for all of it.
Consider what has changed at home for this employee.
Does he now have to be a schoolteacher and caregiver while trying to work?
Does he not have a comfortable and private space in his home to work?
Identifying the legitimate obstacles to your employee’s ability to do the job will require you to have problem-solving conversations with them that go beyond the typical 1:1 focused on how many prospects he’s contacting or how many candidates he interviewed last week.
At the same time, don’t be too quick to assume the reason for his decline is life at home either.
For example, have layoffs forced you to realign reporting structures in your organization that may not be working well for your employee?
One of my clients assumed that her underperforming recruiter’s family demands was the sole reason for her numbers declining. Empathizing with the employee and trying to be a supportive boss, she restrained herself from addressing the issue. As it turns out, her assumptions and hesitance prevented her from uncovering the real reason – one my client could have easily resolved earlier with a simple reporting change.
Consider what delivery processes are more cumbersome now.
Transitioning everyone to working virtually may be amplifying operational weaknesses.
For instance, an outdated and cumbersome application process may cause delays in getting candidates through the lifecycle to placement due to workarounds. This could be causing your firm to lose job orders to the competition…which will result in demotivating your sales rep whose production will naturally decline if the operational inefficiencies are not addressed.
If there is a major obstacle to success that you own resolving, identify it quickly and put a plan in place to make the necessary changes. Then let your employees know you’re working to resolve it.
Consider your own role in this situation.
Accountability starts with a leader acknowledging they may play a role in someone’s underperformance.
Have you been clear about what you expect from your newly remote team?
Have you provided the consistent communication, resources, training, coaching, and feedback essential to success?
- Sit down with your employee, acknowledge the reality of today’s challenges, and personally offer your help.
Remember, no top performer wants his production to slip. What he needs first is to know you still believe in and will fully support his success if he’s doing his part.
Share your thoughts and check the assumptions you’ve made about why things aren’t going well with the employee. Is the reality of operating in a pandemic actually the root cause?
Ask, “why do you feel your numbers are declining?” Listen carefully to how they describe the situation. If they deny anything has changed, you may have mismatched expectations. If they point fingers, make repeated excuses, or refuse to take responsibility, you may have to accept that your superstar has fallen from his pedestal by his own hand.
But if you believe this is just a temporary slide once you fully understand the issues, transition the discussion to problem-solving. Ask, “let’s talk about what I can do and what can the team do to help you succeed amidst all of these new challenges.”
- Brainstorm potential resolutions with your employee.
Continue the conversation by asking thought-provoking questions.
“What would you change if you could? and “What do we need to do as a team to help each other?” opens the door to creative, interim solutions.
Before leaving the conversation, reassure your employee that a temporary slip in his numbers happens and is certainly more excusable in this environment. Tell him you’ll make yourself readily available to provide guidance as issues arise. Instituting more frequent check-ins to compensate for the changing conditions is a good idea.
Beyond turning things around with this one employee, be mindful that the entire team is undergoing a lot of change and others are vulnerable to losing momentum as well. Consider doing an “appreciation” exercise to strengthen the entire team’s sense of shared accountability during this crisis. In your next team meeting, start the discussion with “I know these are tough days, but I know we’ll all persevere if we consistently help each other.” Ask every employee to write down how they rely on each of their team members during this time of crisis, then have each of them share. This will result in people feeling appreciated and valued. And don’t be surprised if they band together and make additional commitments of support to one another that don’t even require your involvement.
Remember, your biggest contribution to those you lead is helping them be, and contribute, their best. When good employees start to fall short, your greatest show of compassion is to think through what has changed, communicate with them openly and supportively to uncover the real issues, and brainstorm resolutions to constraints so they begin to experience success once again.