The inconsistent performer on your team is one of the most difficult management challenges managers, especially new managers, face. It’s like flipping a coin, you never know if a good day or bad day will be the performance de jour for this employee. This blog looks at how to recognize performance signs, causes of poor performance, and some solutions.
How to Recognize Inconsistent Performance: The most obvious way is to recognize performance patterns. Everyone at every level in any organization has a bad day occasionally. You can use your top performers as benchmarks to understand performance patterns. For example, observe the number of days of good performance and how consistently these top performers produce quality projects. At the other end of the spectrum, here are some items to observe in an inconsistent performer:
- Quality of work: errors, incomplete work, not following instructions, below standard projects
- Dependability: frequently absent, failure to meet commitments and deadlines
- Communication: Inappropriate communication, often misinterprets instructions, failure to share important information
- Relationships: May have poor relationships with peers, overreacts to constructive criticism, grudge holder, disrupts activities
- Judgement: Poor decision maker, illogical reasoning, lacks tact
- Volume of Work: Overreacts or becomes disgruntled at realistic workloads
- Job Knowledge/Skills: Does not understand their job, fails to keep up with changes or technical knowledge, inability to use equipment efficiently
There may be other, more serious, behavioral infractions such as bullying, or even sexually inappropriate behavior. Determine how frequently or never, your top performers may display the behaviors from the list above and compare this data to the inconsistent employee. Of course, you never compare two employees in an evaluation, but you may have a top performer mentor an inconsistent performer as a possible solution.
Causes of Poor Performance: Life situations, disappointments, and minor, routine health issues can cause anyone to fall short of their best performance occasionally. However, most people move through and past these obstacles. While it’s true that some life situations, such as a divorce or the death of a close family member may take a little longer to overcome, the top performer will still show up as soon as possible, perform at a higher level, and move beyond the incident. This is not the case with the chronic inconsistent performer. Here’s an example.
Recently a client hired an administrative assistant, and all seemed to be going well. Soon, however, the client could recognize a consistent pattern of inconsistent behavior. The admin became a chronic complainer. The employee was apparently struggling through a divorce and the client suggested the admin seek assistance from their EAP program. The admin failed to take advantage of the program. The admin added another complaint to her long list about not having enough money to pay the “high” insurance rates. This employee smokes, and can afford cigarettes, but somehow cannot make the connection between higher fees for her health benefits and smoking. In addition, she enjoys going to Vegas quite often. Hmmmm. The admin recently left the organization. Now comes the expense of hiring another admin. Let’s look at some possible solutions for the inconsistent performer.
Solutions: Consistent management is a big key in managing the inconsistent performer.
Establish Standards: Establishing performance standards is essential. Then clearly communicating them to your team. But go a step further, hold discussions, obtain feedback, and allow critiques of the standards. Team members are the ones performing the work and are the best source to help set up attainable performance standards. This is also how you obtain buy-in. Apply standards consistently.
Consistent Emotions: Managers and Leaders can sometimes experience stress and fall into the short fuse syndrome just like everyone else. Of course, the best idea is to maintain your own mood swings as consistently a positive manner as is humanly possible. Failing at this, offer an apology as soon as possible.
Consistent Feedback: Providing positive feedback to an employee one day for a piece of work, and then providing that same employee negative feedback for the same piece of work the next, will cause confusion, low morale, and poor performance on the part of the employee. Not only is working for a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde no fun, it can lead to
- Learned helplessness by the employees
- Emotional contagion - The spreading of negative emotions
Moving Off Mediocrity: The idea is to not manage your team into mediocrity. If that state does exist, here are ideas to bring the team back to life.
- Move or terminate the team members who earn that right. It is your responsibility as a manager and it will help send a clear message that mediocrity is no longer on the menu.
- Offer challenging projects.
- Provide opportunities for working with other teams
- Ensure fair and honest evaluations going forward. This means letting an employee know when they are being inconsistent, and that inconsistent performance is holding them back.
Pay attention to the signs of inconsistent behavior and don’t think that everything is going to be OK after one project improvement. Look at the sources below for even more solutions. Even us humans can be consistent managers enough to ensure consistently better performance.
Anonymous. (n.d.) Behavioral Observations of Poor Performers. Iowa State University
Anonymous. (2015, September). Managing Employee Performance. SHRM
Aringdale, C. (2015, April). How to Manage and Inspire Poor Employee Performance. TLNT Talent Management and HR
Lipkin, N. (2013, October). The Impact of Inconsistent Management. American Management Association
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