At some point in your organization’s lifecycle, you will have a team member(s) who underperforms. Underperformance comes in various sizes and shapes, but is most likely a deficiency surrounding getting things done quickly and/or accurately. If not addressed properly, underperforming team members can wreak havoc on an organization’s work flow, service standards, and ultimately profitability.
Here are some do’s and don’ts to help guide you in getting an underperforming team member back on a more sustainable path forward:
Do: Establish performance goals jointly. Regardless of the position, whenever you make a new hire, be sure to set expectations upfront clearly and frequently. I have found over the years that firm owners sometimes do a poor job of communicating their expectations to the new team member and in these cases the new hire rarely meets or exceeds what the firm owner had secretly hoped they would deliver. Increase the chances of your new hire’s success by setting specific goals with reasonable timeframes. As the leader of your firm, it is your responsibility to develop these expectations initially then build them out collaboratively with your new hire so they have buy-in. This, buy-in, will make your life much easier when the time comes to do annual reviews and instead of taking a subjective approach to awarding raises, you can take a more objective approach by revisiting the document that you and the team member created together to see if an increase is warranted.
Don’t: Focus exclusively on the negatives. When someone on your team is struggling, good managers will look for ways to boost their confidence. Maybe it is a compliment on something that they are doing well – it may just be one thing! Try asking questions and listening to try to find out what is going on and maybe the downturn is temporary and due to a situation outside of work. In some cases, it may be a real stretch for a manager to find something, but realistically if you cannot find one thing that they are doing well, your expectations are too lofty or the hire is so bad that you should never attempt hiring someone without help ever again. If the hire you made has any awareness whatsoever, they are probably aware they are not meeting expectations. Take this opportunity to try and build them up, not completely extinguish their flame of desire to succeed within.
Do: Offer to provide additional training, resources, etc. By this point, you probably already have invested a great deal of time and resources so I get what you are thinking, but considering how difficult it is to find, hire and integrate someone new, you should exhaust all options prior to pulling the plug. Maybe the solution is as straightforward as additional training in something like time management, efficiency, listening, professionalism, technical focused topics, or communication. Consider bringing in a coach or consultant if needed as well that can assist in instruction and accountability and be objective with you and the team member on progress and the likely future outcome. Furthermore, if it ends up working out, this action instills a great sense of loyalty from the team member’s standpoint hopefully solidifying a longer term employment situation.
Don’t: Shift workload to the other members of your team. The firms we work with tend to have superb team efficiency while operating very profitable businesses leaving nowhere for an underperformer. I encourage firm owners to deal with the underperformer directly and to not be lured in to thinking things will improve on their own without any planned outside intervention. However, what can happen is that uncomfortable conversations are put off “until it is a better time” and in the meantime expect the surrounding team to pick up the slack. Picking up the slack temporarily is one thing however you endanger losing your high performers the longer it continues. You do not want to send the wrong message to your high performers that they will be punished by having to shoulder more of the workload because you can count on them.
Do: Ask others for input on what you might be missing. It might be difficult to find someone who will be an objective sounding board for you since paid consultants might tend to be agreeable in order to avoid conflict and still get paid. Consider reaching out to your peers, study group, and even planners from a different generation to try and get their take. For example, if your issues involve a team member from a younger generation reach out to someone in the FPA NexGen and/or NAPFA Genesis communities. It could be that you aren’t as good a manager as you thought and you have other team members feeling unmotivated too, it could be that you made a bad hire which happens and now need to move on, or it could be that your expectations are indeed too lofty. Hopefully, you have built enough relationships throughout the profession to have people around you who will be honest with you.
Don’t: Ask them to train their replacement. Training is not what most independent planning firms are known for hence one of the reasons new hires sometimes struggle. If you have someone in a role that is either too slow and/or making lots of mistakes, they should not be kept on to train their replacement unless you want to go through the same hiring and firing exercise over and over again! This is not the way to be efficient in a planning firm. Instead, firm owners should think about what in the process went wrong and how it can be improved prior to the next hire because realistically it is never entirely the candidates fault.
Finally, if you have already tried these and were still not able to secure the outcome you initially had hoped for, then parting ways may be your only remaining alternative. If so, be sure to do your family, friends, clients and team a favor and make the call prior to the holidays so you can enjoy them and not make everyone else miserable as well as give yourself time to get someone in place to hit the ground running to start in the new year.