Thursday, June 16, 2011

7 Tips to Confront "Poor Performers"

Nothing is certain but death and taxes.  You can add below average employees to that list.

As a nonprofit manager, you are always going to have to handle less than ideal employees.  It's simply a fact of life.  How you confront these individuals can determine how successful your organization can be.  It would seem there are only two ways to deal with these types of workers: You can avoid a potentially messy confrontation and hope they improve.  Or, you can meet with the problematic employee and tell them to shape up or ship out.  In his book How to Lead by THE BOOK, Dave Anderson (founder of The Matthew 25:35 Foundation) says there is actually a middle ground.  By combining gentleness with firmness, a strong nonprofit manager can approach these "poor performers" in a way that will get them to perform better without making a scene.  He lists 7 ways to get the most out of these confrontations:

  1. Confront with class: Anderson urges respect when confronting problematic employees. Keeping that in mind, it is best to discuss problems with poor performers in private rather than bringing up the problems in front of their colleagues.  Making a mistake is embarrassing enough without it having to be revealed to everyone in the office.
  2. Nix favoritism: Top performers are another constant for any nonprofit organization.  But just because this individual hits the proverbial home run 99% of the time doesn't mean you should be cutting them slack if they happen to strike out once or twice.  This will severely undermine the culture of your organization, as well as your credibility as a manager.
  3. Make sure the correction fits the "crime": Poor performers should be punished appropriately for whatever mistake they made.  If it was only a small error, there is no need to institute harsh penalties for them.  Anderson lists problems that stem from poor attitude, a lack of respect for the values of the company, or an overly inflated ego as issues that must be corrected most forcibly.
  4. Beware of committing a false kindness: Never try to forgo confrontational talk by just giving positive reinforcement.  You might think this will help them perform better, but according to Anderson you are actually showing a lack of caring.  He says that you should confront these problems before they get too big.  This will help to teach employees that their leader cares about how work is conducted in the organization.
  5. Choose your battles wisely: A strong nonprofit leader will be able to know when a response is needed rather than a rebuke.  Anderson uses the example of a mostly reliable employee coming in late one day.  Instead of yelling at this employee, he suggests inquiring with them whether everything is all right.  Tardiness from a repeat offender, on the other hand, would warrant a much different response.
  6. Follow up with follow-through: Always offer advice and encouragement after your initial confrontation with a poor performer.  Failing to do this will leave the employee with no knowledge of what they need to do to improve.  As Anderson says, it's like going to a doctor for a diagnosis and then refusing to take the prescribed medicine.
  7. Don't dig up the past: As tempting as it may be, you should never bring up past mistakes to poor performers.  It does no good to live in the past.  What's important is to correct the current problem, and bringing up dirty laundry won't help that.
Interested in reading more about what Dave Anderson has to say?  Visit the website for How to Lead by THE BOOK at  And if you want even more management tips similar to these, visit The NonProfit Times.

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