Fix It Now and Keep It Fixed

March 2015

Not surprisingly, I spend a lot of time talking with managers about their employees’ performance. Truly my favorite part of my work is coaching a manager to develop talented, productive, happy employees. Inevitably, however, I also spend a certain amount of time coaching managers in responding to unsatisfactory performance through a verbal or written warning. At some point in that process, we stumble on a phrase that goes something like this: “We will review your performance again in 30 days.” Not in my memo, we won’t.

Some employees will respond positively to a 30-day plan, appreciate your support, and accept the challenge to bring their performance into line. Let’s face it, though: if this was a highly motivated and responsible employee, you probably wouldn’t be delivering a warning. Some employees will interpret the 30-day plan as a free pass, knowing that you won’t make the decision to terminate until the 30th day, regardless of how bad their performance is. Others will work their fingers to the bone to impress you for 30 days, then heave a sigh of relief on Day 31 and relapse into their former mediocre performance.

The phrase I like to use is “immediate and sustained improvement,” or in plain English, “fix it now and keep it fixed as long as you work here.” You want the employee to change their behavior starting today, with no relapse in 30 days, 6 months, a year, or whenever.

Besides telling the employee what you really want, this message reinforces your at-will employment relationship. Putting a timeframe on performance improvement implies that the employee is more at risk of termination during that timeframe and then somehow graduates to a higher level of employment security by passing a 30-day performance test. Similar to other conditions that come to mind, you can’t be a little bit at-will.

Counseling an employee whose performance or workplace behavior is not meeting expectations is most managers’ least favorite task. It’s tempting to avoid it and easy to mis-handle it. Contact Results HR for the advice and support you need to help each employee work to his or her potential and to move non-performers off your team with fairness and respect.

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