Options for dealing with a subpar performer

Options for dealing with a subpar performer

I’m a department head at a medium-sized enterprise. We have a strict production timeline that must be followed by everyone daily, both in terms of individual results and reports. Louie (not his real name) is becoming notorious for producing substandard results for the sake of meeting deadlines. How do we manage Louie? — Adrenaline Push.

If Louie is the only one not meeting the production requirements, then it’s clear that he’s part of the problem, at least at first glance. If this initial assessment is correct, you need to get to the bottom of the situation fast to keep things from getting worse. One possibility is that his immediate boss may have failed to coaching him to meet standards.

Maybe it’s not you as the department head, but other line leaders or supervisors. If there are no other line leaders, then the challenge belongs to you. So, let’s break down the issue into manageable pieces.

In the first place, what’s the wisdom of requiring both the result and report? Could we combine the two, so much so that the actual result can speak for the report itself?

The rule of the game is to simplify things. Simplification is the ultimate sophistication. If we follow the teachings of Shigeo Shingo (1909-1990), one of Japan’s foremost industrial engineers, we must make things easy, better, faster and cheaper, in that order. For example, if the production system is difficult to master, then it could be one of the reasons why Louie is having trouble with his daily production result and report.

THREE QUESTIONS

Could Louie be the only culprit in your department when his other teammates can perform to the standard with no problem at all? That raises the following basic questions:

One, does Louie has the basic skills to do the job? He may understand the work process, but may have issues with basic arithmetic, language proficiency, computer skills or even in understanding what constitutes a product defect.

Two, is the instruction manual easy to understand? Do you have anything in writing that Louie can refer to when needed? Are the manuals comprehensible for Louie and the rest of the team? Consider an illustrated diagram explaining the difference between a defective and acceptable product?

Last, is Louie receiving regular coaching from you? If not you, how about an experienced worker who can provide the one-on-one tutoring? Louie could be experiencing a learning issue that interferes with his ability to learn or in doing other parts of the job. At times, this could be solved by another person who can provide many lessons.

In many cases, employers are trigger-happy in terminating workers like Louie, without carefully considering what’s happening within the organization. If you take the extreme step of dismissing Louie, then what guarantee do you have that no more Louies turn up later on?

LAST RESORT

If Louie’s work is important to the organization, then prepare solutions that may be applied to everyone’s job. Are there other jobs that could be given to Louie and other similarly-situated workers which they can perform more productively? If so, don’t hesitate to transfer Louie to where he’s best suited.

If he refuses to accept a new assignment, then his poor performance is more than enough for your management to give him a dishonorable discharge, subject to procedural due process.

As diplomatic and as humanely possible, explain to Louie why management is resorting to such a measure as a last resort. You may adjust this plan according to the circumstances. If he was otherwise a good employee with a good number of years in the company, offer him a graceful exit that would allow him to seek employment elsewhere.

You will not get anything by firing Louie and destroying his future. If you go down this route, prepare him for other opportunities outside the organization. That’s only possible if he’s willing to sign a written, voluntary resignation in exchange for a graceful exit. It’s much better than undergoing the emotional process of asking him to explain why he should not be dismissed for cause.

Give Louie a deadline to submit his resignation — at most, in two days. Otherwise, prepare for a lengthy dismissal process. Whatever you do, proceed calmly and objectively.

 

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