Confronting Poor Performers

Bob, your accounting manager, comes rushing into your office to tell you he's got to fire Joe, the accounts receivable clerk, immediately. Apparently, Joe can't get anything right and if something isn't done, the whole company is going to go down the drain.

UGH!! Sound familiar?

After presenting Bob with the Oscar for "Best Actor in a Workplace Drama," you ask him if he's written up Joe for any specific incidences, or if he's shared Joe's performance issues in his last annual review. Bob gives you a blank stare and tells you he's got too much paperwork to handle as it is. Translation: No. And when you pull Joe's previous performance appraisals from your files, you get every indication that Joe's work has been nothing short of glowing.

Can you terminate Joe? Yes. Should you terminate Joe? Maybe. Is it a good idea to terminate Joe today? A resounding NO.

I've seen it time and time again — managers who are afraid they won't be liked if they give any negative feedback. But if you don't tell employees what's wrong, how can they do anything to improve? I've found that most employees would rather get honest feedback — for the benefit of their own career development — than be left in the dark. Plus, you want to inform them of the next steps should they not improve, so they're not in complete shock if/when you escort them out the door.

Here's more inspiration for you: This could save your company from a lawsuit if Joe decides to sue for discrimination. Although most states let you fire employees "at-will" with no reason or paperwork, it's not a smart move. Joe may claim Bob discriminated against him — even if he knows it's not true. And without the proper paperwork (counseling or warning forms and/or performance reviews with specific expectations), your company may not have any proof to defend itself in court.

My suggestion? Do yourself, your company AND your employees a big favor and deal with the performance issues as they occur — and document, document, document. It shows you are a great manager who not only cares about your company, but also your employees.

- Maurice Rosenberg, Human Resources Manager

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