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Two Things To Remember When Handling Poor Performance

Poor performance can feel personal – it can feel like an insult to your ability to manage people, and it can feel like the person is deliberately trying to sabotage, make you look bad or insult you or the company.

When I manage poor performers, I try to remember two key things.

The first is from Brené Brown, who says in her book ‘Dare to Lead’ that the first step to being vulnerable and accountable is to assume everyone is doing their best. Failure to achieve their best is not because they dislike you or have no respect for you, it’s because at that particular time, that performance is their best.

“All I know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be.” – Brené Brown

The second thing I try to remember when managing poor performance is from Jocko Willink’s book ‘Extreme Ownership’. Jocko’s book states that any failure on behalf of an individual in the team is the responsibility of the team leader because the leader has not held that person accountable to a standard.

“Implementing Extreme Ownership requires checking your ego and operating with a high degree of humility. Admitting mistakes, taking ownership, and developing a plan to overcome challenges are integral to any successful team.” – Jocko Willink

If you go into a performance meeting with an employee thinking these two things, ‘this person is doing their best’ and ‘any team failure is also my failure’, I think you will get better results. Why? Well, the meeting doesn’t start with ‘you have failed’ and changes the focus to ‘how have we not succeeded in this together?’ The conversation moves from shaming and reprimanding the individual to one of collaboration and engagement. If you approach it correctly, you may walk away with a stronger relationship rather than just biding your time until you can fire them.

Here are my top tips for managing poor performance in your organisation:

  • If you assume the person is doing their best and that their performance has slipped, be open to finding out why. There could be circumstances within or outside of work that are problematic for that person that you don’t know about. Ask questions, listen actively and clarify your understanding.
  • Be open to feedback, even if it’s not what you want to hear. Systemic or personnel problems don’t evaporate when a person leaves, they still exist. If you aren’t open to discovering what they are, you will replace the person but not fix the problem
  • Willink’s book is all about accountability. If someone’s performance has slipped or has been problematic, is this the first they’re hearing about it? Were the objectives, behaviours and actions required for average, good and excellent performance made clear? Did you support them? Did you hold them accountable? Clear is kind, so were you clear?
  • What does support look like to this person? If you’re not willing to ask this question and be willing to provide that support, then the person is better off in another organisation. Be open when you ask that question, be clear about what you can offer and make a commitment to provide it.

Learn about the importance of failure to doing great work, the influence of empowering those around you through mentoring and coaching, how to support your people to drive organisational success, and much more at the Authentic Leadership Summit in Sydney next month. Taking place on 17-20 March, Australia’s top CEOs and MDs will help you develop your leadership through authenticity, openness, and trust. Tickets for this highly anticipated summit are available here.