by Sam Neo
As a HR Business Partner, supporting the line managers in managing performance issues is one area that we have to deal with. That includes both rewarding good performances and of course, tackling poor performances.
When it comes to poor performance issues, it can easily frustrate the hell out of most managers and HR. One might simply think, “Let’s fire him!” or “Get him out of my team!”. It is definitely a quick fix to remove the poor performer from the team but, does that really solve the problem? Can we take a more people-centric approach? What kind of message are we sending out the individual and the rest of the organization? Will this quick fix result in a bigger issue at the end of the day? These are some questions to think about before making any rash moves.
This current piece will talk about the approach you could adopt when planning to manage poor performance and part 2 will focus on executing the plan. To anchor the first of the 2-part topic, I will adapt the “LAMP” framework from the book “Investing in People” by Wayne F. Cascio, John W. Boudreau, to draw relevance to a case that I’ve managed previously. In turn, I hope it will help you think through what works best based on your individual context and work environment.
LAMP – LOGICAL questioning
The issue: Ms X, a regular employee, has been displaying lackluster effort at work, showing bad attitude to her supervisor and spreading negativity amongst her colleagues of late. Facing this problem, her manager approached me asking for advice to resolve the issue one hand. I sat him down and started the conversation by asking, “What are your observations?”, “What could have caused the sudden change after years in the company?”, “What has been done so far?” and “Have you spoken with her to find out more?”. We need to first get the facts right to diagnose the situation objectively before jumping to any conclusion. Data points are required to triangulate and assess the matter in a holistic manner.
He shared that Ms X’s performance has been fluctuating over the years but recently, he observed more frequent lapses at work and even found out that she was intentionally hiding some of these matters. The manager reckoned that she might be jaded after taking on the same role for years and could potentially be facing some personal issues which she did not want to share. However, what he did was basically to just drop her email reminders and had not dug deeper based on his suspicion. When I probed further, he shared that they were not exactly on talking terms and that they were not communicating as effectively as he desired. There we go, that is one potential issue right in the face! Next question is then, where are the data points for us to assess the situation objectively?
LAMP – ANALYZE with data
Now that the manager has answered some parts of the mystery, it is important to drill one level deeper by gathering more data points so as to effectively analyse the situation while removing any potential biasness in the judgment.
I asked for specific examples of Ms X’s lapses and he named a few ranging from missing out on document submission deadlines to not providing the team with timely updates to even not documenting official agreements. Of course, I had to find out the impact and gravity of such lapses to ensure that it is not a personal grudge since I am now aware that they do not have the best relationship. I investigated further to understand how bad the lapses were and what’s the standard operating procedure (SOP) to gather more insights. It was then shared that those issues mentioned were simply the basic requirements that everyone else had to follow. Her poor delivery has resulted in the inconvenience of the team who had to make up for the gaps created while potentially putting the company at risk of losing its credibility among its stakeholders.
Besides lapses on her end, I also wanted to find out more about what has been communicated. I asked him about the daily interaction, the communication style and expectations that were laid out. That way, it will provide him with some potential reflection points while also helping me to better appreciate the full picture of his perception versus the potential truth behind the poor performance. After all, it takes two hands to clap in a relationship and at times, it is not solely the fault of the employee when things go wrong.
With objective facts and proper assessment of the severity, we can then have a clearer picture that this is not just an individual bias but rather, a real problem that has to be resolved. Failing which, the individual’s performance might dip further and the company might face unnecessary exposure. Once this is done, the next step will then be thinking of what needs to be done and what the desired outcome should be like. In terms of improving performance, what would that look like? What are specific measurements that need to be in place so that it provides clarity to the individual?
LAMP – MEASURE the desired outcome
The next part is a smaller but extremely critical piece, outcome measurement. I asked the manager on what is the expected level of performance across the team and got him to break down into smaller parts. By doing so, it helps him rethink his expectations objectively while providing clarity for both himself and later, Miss X. He went back to the SOP and listed the basic expectations that have to be met in order to meet the operational requirements. Now, with such clarity, we then know that biasness have more or less been removed because we have objective facts and measurements to convey without being vague. Clarity is key because a lack of it could lead to a lot of unnecessary contentions and accusations.
LAMP – Managing the PROCESS
After asking logical questions, analysing the situation with data points and setting out a measurable outcome, the final step is to execute the strategy.
To ensure consistency and effectiveness, we will need to rely on a process that is well defined and clear. That way, the affected employee will then be assured that it is nothing personal and that we are working towards a fair approach to help get her up to speed.