Recently there was a discussion about the Role of HR and we were talking about the HR 2.0, HR 3.0 versions. Being an observer and learner of HR my own submission was that HR has adopted 3R's - Recruit, Restructure and Retrench in current times in order to be "Equal Business Partner". I know it is a very critical view and it comes very difficult to HR people to Receive what they are good at 'Giving' i.e. 'Feedforward or Feedback'. Yet, it is my belief that taking a Futuristic view of a subject you are passionate about - one must listen and pay attention to the criticism.
One of the Recent 'Advances' current times have brought into HR Domain is 'Coaching for Transition' i.e. preparing people into Transitory skills before you fire them ( Err.. Retrench them, part company etc. etc. - when you wish to be diplomatic), either for non-performance or because you did unplanned hiring and made Top, Middle or bottom of the pyramid Heavy due to poor planning of the business.
The extreme is when a CEO is quoted across media to be wanting to take extreme steps. The recent news stories which and (I don't believe the story) which says that the Facebook owner 'threatened' to take the head off ? an underperforming employee. That's extreme and it makes a big splash on all kinds of media. It made headlines as it was intended to as a planted (?) story and many would have believed it. Short of threatening with life, many bosses are known to be intimidating, bullying and of course, threatening to their juniors who require to be brought back into the Performance Lane.
I remember, when I had lost in business and had to close my partnership, a friend took me to a Saint ! The Saint like a clairvoyant, looked at me and said " Your Train has Derailed, don't worry. Now that you are here, let's pray and it will come back on the Rails !" How many of us say similar things to employees who are under-performing or way below their quotas/ targets?
So One of the hardest things I realised as manager needs to do is to confront an underperforming employee. In fact, far too many managers avoid these situations and let it drag on way too long till it reaches a stage of being called " beyond repair" or " Derailed State". Doing this, causes resentment amongst employees that are performing at or above expectations, impacts the overall performance of the team, and if not addressed, can establish a culture that says “it just doesn’t matter around here”. Complacency sets in. Mediocrity prevails and doomsday is not far even for the manager !
Why do managers avoid taking action of poor performers? First of all, people in general tend to avoid conflict. Conflict can be messy and hard and it’s often easier to stick you head in the sand and hope it goes away. They also like to be 'Popular' even while they have to take very unpopular steps. Some pass the buck to the higher ups, the senior management and try to say, 'We are just following orders' ! Which is very sad.
Even when managers do take action, they often only take action up to a point, but aren’t willing to actually fire an employee for insufficient improvement. Sometimes they are intimidated by the mountain of HR process, forms, and red tape they will have to contend with. They may be afraid of being sued, or accused of harassment. Or, they may think they are being compassionate. The reality is, letting someone stay in a job that is performing poorly is one of the most uncompassionate things a manager can do to an employee, it can actually do more damage to the individual than firing does! Chances are, the employee knows he/she is struggling, and everyone else know it too. It’s embarrassing and humiliating.
There is another way to address an employee performance problem without having to go through a long, drawn out formal disciplinary process, and avoids the stigma of having been fired from a job.
It’s called “coaching someone out of a job” or Coaching people for Transition.
In IT companies which boasted of hundreds of fresh MBAs as 'Bench-Strength' in India - I have seen this becoming a lucrative business for Coaches and training companies.
To my mind, it is sheer waste of time and money and shows HR in very poor light.
- Coaching someone out of a job is getting the employee to understand that it’s in his/her best interest to leave voluntarily.
- It’s giving them the option of finding another role, internally or externally, that’s a better fit for their skills that would give them the opportunity to be more successful.
- Just to clarify, I am not talking about making conditions so miserable that the employee chooses to leave on their own.
- That's called G.R.O. method - Getting Rid Off someone. Most dangerous !
- You don’t want to be THAT boss!
- That’s the cowardly manager’s option, and a slimy one at that.
Coaching someone out of a job isn’t the best option for every situation.
- It should never be used for flagrant violations of company policy (i.e., Integrity issues, theft, violence, cheating, etc…).
- It should be used as an alternative to firing for an employee that is either performing poorly, or just doesn’t seem to have an interest or be committed to the job.
- There may have been a hiring mistake, or the job requirements may have changed and outgrew the employee’s capabilities, or you may have inherited the employee from a manager chose to bury their head in the sand.
In any case, here’s how to HR approaches the conversation:
- The preparatory steps required to an employee out of a job are very similar to the steps you are required to have a disciplinary discussion.
- You still need to gather evidence and document the poor performance and be prepared to give plenty of examples of a strong case as to why the employee is just not meeting job requirements.
2. Talk to Human Resource Department.
- This by no means suggests that this process as a way to avoid working with your local HR manager (although many managers tend to do so). Badly handled cases turn up during the Exit Interviews with HR.
- Any good HR manager will understand and support what you want to do. You do not ask for permission here – you are asking for guidance and support.
- Besides, if you can’t convince the employee to leave on their own, then you’ll need to start the formal disciplinary process anyways, and that’s when you’ll have to involve HR Department.
3. Discussion about the expectations and actual performance.
- Start the discussion by laying out what were the performance expectation and standards, and explaining how the employee is just not meeting those expectations by citing actual recorded performance.
- In most cases the employees already knows – in fact, after describing the expectations, the manager could even ask the employee to assess their own performance.
4. What are the options before the Employee - Lay it out.
Assuming this is not the first time you’ve discussed poor performance (because if it is, it’s WAY too soon to be having this discussion – you should be working with the employee to identify the causes of the poor performance and solve the problems).
Give the employee 3 options:
- They could resign now, or in the near future (after having a couple days to think about it)
- They could look for another position inside the company externally.
The amount of time you give an employee to do this depends on a lot of factors, including length of service, the attitude of the employee, and the strength of the relationship.
- Whatever you decide, it’s important to establish a deadline.
- Something like: “You’ve got 4 weeks to find another position, either internally or externally, that’s a better fit for your skills.
- However, if at the end of that time you can’t find another position, I’m going to have to start the formal disciplinaryprocess, which could lead to termination.In the meantime, I expect you to continue to make every effort to improve your performance”.
If they choose not to resign or look for another position, then you let them know you have no choice but to begin the disciplinary action immediately.
- The disadvantage of using this approach is it could extend the time it takes to remove a poorly performing employee.
- However, the advantage is that it allows the employee the opportunity to leave gracefully on their own terms, and avoids the messy and ugly process of having to go through a formal termination process.
- Who knows, your employee may thank-you some day, for caring enough to remove them from a position that they were struggling in (and probably miserable in), and allowing them the opportunity to transition into a role better suited for their skills and interests.