How often have you as a leader struggled with that underperforming employee? You know the one. Great potential on paper. Educated. Experienced with solid references. Great personality. Yet, their productivity is lagging as of late. They show up a little later in the morning and depart a little earlier in the afternoon. No longer are they clamoring for new opportunities, embracing new challenges, or seeking out innovating solutions like they once did.
Anyone in management has surely faced this situation. It’s frustrating, but it’s not something that should be simply ignored. The solution is nearly always to address the situation, but doing so often requires patience, sensitivity, and supportive inquisitiveness – soft skills of increasing importance in today’s modern workplace.
Patience – Understand that digging into the root causes for lagging performance takes time and effort. Gone are the days of carrot-and-stick, quid pro quo managerial levers by which leaders can simply reward desired behaviors and punish undesirable ones. Personal discussions with the employee, particularly if the conversation delves into both work-related and personal issues, can take time. This is particularly true in less established leader-follower relationships, where full trust levels are still being established.
Sensitivity – Adopting an emotionally intelligent approach toward any performance issues should always be a #1 priority for transformational leaders. Through a consistent demonstration of care for the physical and emotional well-being of employees, leaders will discover much deeper understandings of issues that could be affecting work performance. Sometimes those are directly work-related, i.e., interpersonal dynamics, misalignment of mission/vision with employee perceptions, or simple skill set mismatches. Frequently, however, issues outside of the workplace may be having a detrimental impact on an employee’s ability to focus, take risks, or prioritize her work tasks.
Support – One of the most effective, yet often seemingly counterintuitive, strategies for leaders facing this type of situation is to avoid recommending solutions to employees. Rather, through a process of appreciative inquiry and thoughtful probing, the most effective and transformational leaders facilitate a process by which the employee himself determines an action plan for overcoming detractors. This could be by seeking out formal or informal training or development opportunities to build skills within their role, or it could be by proactively addressing personal issues outside of the office. The key is in leaders providing an environment in which their devotion toward supporting employee success in whatever means possible.
Talent management. Employee engagement. Transformational Leadership. It is in the intersection of all of these that leaders can tap into the hidden potential of workers. Nowhere is this more evident than when faced with a detrimental shift in employee attitude and productivity. So, take the time, listen…explore…and support your employees through their difficult times. If you do this, chances are you will observe both a return of productivity and an increase in employee loyalty and engagement. Emotionally intelligent leadership is the key.