In a recent blog entitled The Paralyzing Effects of Poor Performance I discussed the psychological drivers behind why many Leaders become paralyzed in the face of taking action when faced with employee performance issues.

In this post I wanted to share 6 proven steps that if followed, will effectively address any and all employee performance issues a Leader will face while affecting change within your organization in a straightforward and non-biased manner.

6 Steps To Address Employee Performance Issues:

Step 1: Performance First, Solutions Second

Often Leaders reverse this order by jumping to solutions before they have adequately defined the performance issue.

This is a big mistake

Defining the performance issue first is the foundation for this process to work as intended.

If you don’t, you will discover that your haste to solve the problem has actually slowed you down.

You will then find yourself revisiting the performance issue many times over seeking clarity.

Effective Leaders simply don’t do this.

Instead, they seek and find performance clarity from the get-go.

They know that by slowing down and allowing themselves to start with effectively addressing the performance issue(s) with clarity, SLOW BECOMES FAST as they never have to stop and continuously return to define the core issue.

Step 2: Define the Deviation

Arrows pointing in multiple directions

The only way to define the performance issue with clarity is to identify the “deviation” in performance.

That is, what specifically SHOULD the employee be doing versus what they are ACTUALLY doing?

Using this comparison between the ACTUAL vs. the INTENDED and contrasting them is a simple yet powerful approach.

Again, your goal is to have complete clarity regarding their Performance deviation before moving on Step 3.

Step 3: Communicate the Deviation

In plain and simple language communicate the “deviation” that you defined in Step 2.

Simply “fill in the blanks” to this Deviation Statement:

Your employee SHOULD be doing __________INSTEAD they are ACTUALLY doing  ________.

For example, let’s say your employee, in this case, “Pat” is continuously missing project deadlines.

Below is how to effectively communicate this Performance Deviation:

Pat, you SHOULD be completing 99% of all your project work on or ahead of time INSTEAD you are ACTUALLY completing your project work 70% on time.

Again, your goal is to have crystal clarity about their Performance deviation and then communicate this in a plain and simple manner that does not allow for excuses or back and forth.

Step 4: Engage Them in the Cause(s)

This is KEY: You must engage them in defining the root cause of their behavior.

Ask them to contribute to defining the possible causes as to why they are not executing as they SHOULD.

Often they’ll need assistance with this step, so use the following two questions – that have been proven over time to help make definitive progress – to help you initiate this process:

The two key questions to address in this step are:

  1. What possible causes prevent you from achieving what you SHOULD?
  2. What percentage of contribution should be assigned each possible cause?

For example, let’s say you and your employee “Pat” generated the following Causes to their Performance Deviation of “Missing Project Deadlines”:

  • Too Many Projects
  • No Enough Project Support Staff
  • Time Taken to Train Intern
  • Project Management System Slow/Needs Upgrading
  • Conflicting Priorities

Next, engage Pat in determining the “most probable cause” by assigning the percentage of contribution each “Cause” has contributed to them missing project deadlines 30% of the time.

Here’s how this breaks down visually:

Possible Causes % of Contribution
Too Many Projects 5%
Not Enough Project Support Staff 15%
Time to Train Intern 25%
Project Management System Upgrade 20%
Conflicting Priorities 35%

Step 5: Select the Best Solution

Now that you have collectively defined the most probable cause(s), you must then select the best Solution(s).

This step should simply flow if you have done the first 4 steps thoroughly.

In fact, this part of the process should flow seamlessly because you will have enough information to select the best solution “collectively” in an unbiased manner.

The one key question to address in this step is:

“How does our collective solution support the performance we SHOULD be doing?”

The important point here is that you have a DIALOG about how the collective solution(s) will indeed enable them to achieve the “SHOULD”.

This dialog is key to the sixth and final step in addressing employee performance issues.

Step 6: Define Consequences

Road sign with "Consequences Just Ahead" written on it
This is the one step where most Leaders hesitate or diminish – DON’T!

There must be consequences for poor performance or else you will never affect change.

So what are they and how should you implement them?

The simple goal here is to have the employee define the possible consequences if they do not exhibit the “SHOULD” portion of the equation.

The one key question that will be addressed in this step is the following:

“If they continue to perform in the ACTUAL way versus how they SHOULD perform what would be the appropriate consequence(s) and by what timeframe?”

Simply use basic brainstorming techniques in collaboration with the employee to generate consequences that are both real and actionable.

These often range from actions to provide additional resources, job/role redesign, or to the ultimate consequence of job loss.

Going Forward:

In summary, effective leaders learn and use these six steps to enable their organization to obtain from the individual employee the contribution it simply must have.

By utilizing a normalized and “non-judgmental” analysis that specifically involves the employee with real and pre-defined characteristics for success, you not only can specifically address performance issues as they arise, but also formulate a concrete action plan to prevent them from happening in the future, while affecting change within the organization.

In turn, the needs of the individual employee are also met as they have defined with clarity and substantive consequences, what happens when their performance expectations are not adequately being met.