Eliminating Performance Problems—A Four-Step Process

Fire extinguisherI’ll say it right up front: I’m not a fan of the infamous practice of ranking employees and continuously turning over the bottom 10 percent. I think it is bad business. So when I speak about eliminating performance problems, I am not suggesting we get rid of employees. That should only be considered in rare occasions, such as when:

  • You made a bad hire—and the person does not have the skills or ability to learn the skills needed for the job, or is not a cultural fit for your organization; or
  • The individual’s bad attitude negatively affects others and the work—no matter how much coaching and encouragement you provide.

In my experience, most of the time we can avoid letting someone go by following a simple four-step process that eliminates the problem instead of the employee.

Step 1: Set clear expectations for performance. 

People need to know what a good job looks like. Leaders must be able to paint a clear picture of the results they want employees to achieve. That includes clear measures of success. Performance is sometimes off target because clear targets were never set.

Step 2: Provide day-to-day coaching.

Make time to provide direction on new tasks, to praise progress and acknowledge results, and to listen and encourage as needed. The amount of direction and support you provide should correlate to the person’s competence and commitment on each goal or task. Make sure you get to know each individual personally so that you may effectively adapt your coaching to their situation.

Step 3: Hold regular one-on-one meetings.

At least once a month, get together with each of your direct reports to discuss how things are going. The best one-on-ones are scheduled by the manager but led by the direct report. It is their chance to share progress, talk about obstacles they are facing, and work with you to solve problems.

Step 4: Catch performance problems early and solve them together.

The sooner you catch a performance problem, the easier it is to address. As soon as you notice a pattern of poor performance, have an open discussion. Involve the person in solving the problem. Set a time to follow up to ensure that the problem is solved.

On the surface, these four steps may seem like common sense—but they are far from common practice. Take some extra time with your people. Following these four steps will not only dramatically reduce the number of performance problems in your team but also result in an increase in overall employee productivity, engagement, and retention.

About the author

John Hester is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies who specializes in productivity and performance management.

2 thoughts on “Eliminating Performance Problems—A Four-Step Process

  1. Hi John

    Thanks for producing such a common sense approach to performance management. The theme that runs through your four-step process is clear: employee responsibility.

    In each step there is a role for the manager which is primarily about creating a safe environment. This takes significant skill and empathy, but it is eminently achievable.

    By contrast, the role of the employee at each stage is to be responsible for the outcomes. For example, to come prepared to the 1:1 meeting and to use the time effectively.

    This is a great framework for any manager who needs some help understanding his or her role in performance management.


    David Pethick
    Co-Founder, http://leading.io

Leave a Reply