If you’ve worked in HR long enough, you’ve had plenty of conversations about “bad employees,” “disengaged workers, “underperformers” and even “bad apples.” Managers often need HR’s help in figuring out what should be done next. But it’s not just about giving a bad employee good feedback, it’s about arming managers with the tools they need to be effective advocates and coaches.
Managers might mistakenly assume underperforming team members are a lost cause. Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs) are often put in place as a last resort, but do your team leaders take steps well beforehand to ensure these employees are getting the coaching and guidance they need? In many cases, PIPs are the first time those employees are given consistent feedback about their work. If your managers in your organization have come to you requesting guidance on “problem employees,” maybe they’re not giving enough employee feedback. Ask them these questions first:
How were goals developed? Have they been revisited or updated since they were created?
In many cases, companies take a cascading approach to creating goals where employees are handed a set of pre-determined, static goals once a year. People are the labeled “bad employees” when those goals aren’t achieved. However, annual goal setting makes little sense for the way people work today. An employee shouldn’t be labeled an underperformer when goals aren’t met: priorities change, other projects arise or resource allocation fluctuates. Instead, ask employees to create their own goals and encourage them to revisit them with their managers regularly. Work collaboratively to establish new deadlines and deliverables so the expectations are well defined.
Were those goals aligned to larger business objectives so it’s clear to them where they’re adding value?
Underperformers are almost always disengaged employees. Why? Oftentimes, people become unproductive and unhappy when they don’t feel they’re adding value. Your company mission, vision and values should be clear to all employees and even more importantly, should be tied to their personal objectives. Managers should only be concerned when employees still fail to achieve goals they’ve created even when they’re given all the resources and tools to achieve them, which leads to the next question…
When is the last time you had a 1-on-1 discussion about longer-term career objectives?
Even when individual goals are tied to the company’s strategic vision, it’s possible an employee feels uninspired to complete them. Outside of conversations about specific projects and deadlines, employees and managers should have check-in conversations that are exclusively career-focused. Someone labeled as a “bad apple” might have lost motivation to complete their goals because their long-term career aspirations are now different. Managers should be comfortable asking employees about what’s next for their teams professionally. Other opportunities might be available in the organization more applicable for a problem employee’s professional ambitions. It’s possible one team’s bad employee is another one’s rock star.
Do employees have ways to get feedback from other team members, departments and collaborators?
Some employee feedback comes entirely from one person: their managers. However, today’s work is collaborative and top-down feedback alone is insufficient to accurately assess performance. On top of that, managers can be biased. To even the playing field and give problem employees a more equal shot, feedback should be gathered from their peers, frequent collaborators and even customers. With 360-degree feedback tools in place, employees are not only empowered to solicit feedback on their own, managers have a more well-rounded and complete understanding of both pain points and achievements.
So it’s clear that “bad employees” might have been given a bad rap. To make sure you’re not inundated with any more frenzied emails or conversations with frustrated team leaders, establish an environment where employees and managers work collaboratively on goals, check in regularly and ask for feedback.