How to handle a staff member who isn’t achieving their goals

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One of the most important tasks of any manager in a dealership is to ensure your team is achieving their goals and hitting KPIs. But what if one member of your team isn’t performing? Difficult conversations with your staff can cause anxiety for you, and if not handled properly, could derail any attempts to correct and improve performance.

Instead of just outright telling your employee they are underperforming, you could ask them to assess their own performance, with their response informing your next steps. Doing so will prevent you from being the bad guy, provide valuable information about how aligned you were about their performance, and demonstrate to the employee that you want to partner with them to improve, rather than immediately passing judgment. Here is a rough plan to help guide you:

Ask before telling. Start the conversation by asking your employee how they think they’re doing with their goals. As well as this, ask them to list key metrics and examples by which they measure their performance. Knowing how closely your perceptions are aligned will determine what you need to communicate next.

Ideally, they’ll be on the same page as you and you can quickly move on to the next steps of your plan. Sometimes you might be in partial agreement. In this case, you still don’t need to do all the heavy lifting — simply point out additional areas where you think they’re falling short.

In some cases, they may think they’re doing fine. This is when you would share that you have a different view. You might say, “It’s helpful for me to hear that you think you’re doing great. Unfortunately, I have a different perception of your performance. I’d like to provide more information on how I’ve arrived at my perspective and then explore with you where I might be missing information and where you might need to do things differently.”

Clarify non-negotiables. Now that you’ve discussed that your employee’s performance needs improvement, you can provide a list of clear expectations and outline areas that are not negotiable. Be sure to provide verifiable information about the employee’s failures and then emphasise your desire to help them succeed.

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Connect to the employee’s goals. Your employee will be more motivated to improve their performance if it’s tied to something they want. For example, suppose they want more exposure to customers — presenting to and building relationships with them, as well as increasing the amount of time they travel to customer sites. However, they don’t organise their time well and often miss deadlines. In this case, inform them that they will first need to deliver on current priorities and demonstrate they can handle the extra travel if they want to spend more time visiting clients.

By asking your employee for their thoughts, you might also discover you hadn’t appreciated the amount of work involved in a project. In this case, you and your direct report can set more realistic goals for that initiative. By asking questions, you collaborate instead of dictate — thereby increasing your employee’s motivation to meet their goals.

Describe specific behaviours. Be clear about your employee’s failings by describing specific examples and behaviours you observed. Telling someone, “You’re not responsive,” is vague and doesn’t outline a clear path for change. But if you tell them, “I’ve noticed you haven’t responded to half my emails, and it has taken a week for you to respond to three others. In addition, you missed your last two deadlines without giving me a heads-up,” they can make a connection between their behaviours and your expectations.

Craft a plan together. Now that you’re both on the same page, wrap up the conversation by asking your employee how they plan to bring their performance back on track. Fill in the gaps based on what they share and agree on a timeline and communication plan. Also, be sure to clarify how long they have to achieve specific results and what will happen if they don’t succeed.

The next time you find yourself getting worked up about confronting a direct report who’s not meeting goals, start by asking them to assess their own performance. Engaging in a dialogue rather than issuing an edict will also reduce your work. Your employees will appreciate the invitation to collaborate on improving their performance and become involved in finding a solution — resulting in a better night’s sleep for you!

[Adapted from HBR.org. Original article by Sabina Nawaz]

Teamrecruit is Australia’s most established recruitment agency specialising in truck, earthmoving and agricultural machinery dealerships in Australia, New Zealand, the South Pacific and Southeast Asia. Find out more about Teamrecruit and how we support employers and candidates in the dealership industry.

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