When to Let Go of Poor Performers in the Workplace

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When to Let Go of Poor Performers in the Workplace

Performance reviews have long been under-fire for practices of ranking individuals into top, middle, and bottom tiers. However, these tiers or other setups showing individuals who consistently perform under set standards can help your organization to improve and succeed. Traditionally, individuals who consistently underperform are simply let go, as they are either fired or do not receive contract renewal.

Modern HR practices typically require a much more human-friendly approach, where you should offer opportunities and tools to improve. Understanding these tools and approaches will help you to understand both how to improve performance and when to give up and let go of someone who simply is not responding to efforts.

Poor Response to Coaching

Coaching and mentoring can greatly improve performance for many. Here, leaders can simply step in to determine what’s gone wrong and why. This may result in the individual being moved to a more suitable team. It may result in their roles changing. It may result in them being pushed into personal development or training to improve specific factors.

Poor performance can result from myriad factors such as stress, poor home-life conditions, poor work-life balance, overwork, a bad manager, a poor fit with team, lack of crucial knowledge or skills, lack of motivation, and other factors. Coaching can help with any of these.

No matter what direction coaching takes, it’s important to monitor results. If someone fails immediately, it may be the fault of the coach. However, if the coach is good, there is a certain point when further investment is likely futile or no longer a good investment. Here, you should set a budget based on the cost of hiring and onboarding a replacement to the same or a higher level of performance and work within that.

No Interest in Development

Individuals who do not respond to or show interest in personal development cannot improve or change. This is important because most remediation efforts for poor performance eventually result in development. Individuals who lack skills for their current role have to be trained. Persons in a role that is changing outside of their ability to perform have to be trained. Individuals who can’t communicate well have to be trained as well.

If someone is not interested in learning and improving themselves, they cannot increase or improve performance. You can typically gauge this before development begins but should do so as it proceeds as well.

Lack of Personal Motivation

Personal motivation is the key to self-improvement and it is one (hard to measure) factor that will make or break the success of any initiative. Without motivation, an individual cannot respond to coaching, cannot push themselves through development, and will not be able to engage with or become passionate about work. You can take on several strategies to boost motivation through empowerment, stress reduction, training, and offering opportunities, but it is up to the individual to respond.

Like with coaching, motivation training should stop at a certain point when it becomes clear that the cost of doing so will exceed the cost of replacing the individual altogether.

Most people will train, develop themselves, and strive to do better when given the opportunity to do so in an understanding environment. People respond well to coaching, are able to make changes to their schedules and work methods and can learn new skills to improve performance. On the rare occasion that individuals do not respond to these methods or the cost of delivering them far outstrips the cost of hiring a new employee, you should let poor performers go.


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