How to Prevent Key Employee Performance Problems From Sinking Your Business

By Doug Beckley, Group Chair – Catapult Groups

I have a friend who was engaged to be married, but as wonderful as his fiancé was, he didn’t want to go through with it. He agonized about what to do, consulted with friends, flip-flopped endlessly – but he just couldn’t bring himself to tell her. Time passed, showers were thrown, wedding plans made. And still he delayed. The day came to mail the 200 plus invitations. He chewed his nails, hoped for an accident, but the envelopes were dropped in the mail box and R.S.V.P.’s came flowing in. Three days before the wedding, he broke it off. It was as bad as you can imagine and worse.

I see this dynamic every day in the work lives of business leaders and owners. They manage a key person in their organization, and they are not happy with the relationship.

employee performance problems

Often the individual is not performing as they should and the leader knows it. And yet, no concrete or decisive action is taken. They make remarks, even have conversations with the person – these often taken place on the fly, when something goes wrong, or maybe in the hallway on the way to a meeting. Their approach seems to confuse the employee and make the relationship even more awkward. And the performance continues to deteriorate.

Don’t Drag Out Your Employee Performance Problems

Yes, you need to give this person every opportunity to succeed. Yes, you may want to consider training or adjustments in how you empower this person. But do not let these become an easy way for you to abdicate your responsibility as a manager to provide honest feedback and redirection because it is uncomfortable.

This conflict avoidance dynamic is graphed below. On the vertical axis, we have discomfort. On the horizontal axis, we have time. As shown, when time passes without management intervention, discomfort increases.

Chart that shows the stages of conflict

As you can see, if we address the person proactively, our task is not unpleasant. But the longer we avoid addressing an issue, the more uncomfortable the interaction will become. If we wait too long, performance problems mount, the relationship breaks down – and the organization pays the price.

Executives Pointing Out Business Conflict

The solution is simple, just not always easy. Follow the three guidelines below.

  1. Lean into the discomfort. Don’t wait until the company is impacted or you are angry. One primary role of a leader is to be a coach. Embrace this role and provide thoughtful and direct guidance – and provide it swiftly. If you are worried about micromanaging, then make sure you focus on the person’s results, not their methods. Tell them what needs to be accomplished, and let them figure out how to accomplish it.
  2. Schedule performance management into your work. Our key people (especially managers) need our guidance and mentorship. Begin this process the day they are hired. Hold regular one-on-one meetings with your key people, in which their performance is the only agenda item. As they become more autonomous, these meetings may evolve.
  3. Acknowledge when there is a bad fit. If you coach effectively, only one of two things will happen. Either the person’s performance will improve – or you will come to realize they are in the wrong job. If you have the wrong person, do not drag this out. Trust your gut – if you have given this person every shot, don’t prolong everyone’s suffering. Make a change.

Human nature is to avoid the unpleasant. This dynamic is the same in work and life. An uncomfortable conversation now means you needn’t worry whether your future father in law is cleaning his shotgun.

If you want to learn more about how to manage diverse people and teams to produce the right business results, call Doug Beckley today at (702) 534-5555, ext. 2.

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