Question of the Month: What is the appropriate action for a leader to take when an employee underperforms, or performs according to expectation, or performs well above expectation?
Answer: A hallmark of a leader is that he takes appropriate rather than expedient action. He sets the example for his people by doing the right thing and motivating them to behave appropriately.
When an employee has been a ‘Superstar’ and made an exceptional contribution, the “appropriate” leader responds by finding a way to reward the employee for this – because it is only just that such a person should receive demonstrably more than those who have not gone the extra mile.
When an employee has been a “Solid Citizen”, the appropriate leader acknowledges the contribution made and thanks the person for doing a good job.
When an employee has performed below standard, the appropriate leader investigates why this is the case and takes the appropriate action. If the employee lacks the means to do the job, the means is provided; if the employee lacks knowledge or ability, training is provided or the person is removed from the role or the work is redesigned. But if the underperformance is due to carelessness, the employee is censured and careful work is insisted upon; and if the underperformance has been due to deliberate malevolence, the employee is disciplined and sanctioned.
In all three cases (Superstar, Solid Citizen and Underperformer), the appropriate leader ensures that the means and ability are available for the employee to maintain and raise the bar on her performance.
By contrast, the inappropriate leader’s response to the Superstar is to do nothing, or to take advantage of her and assign more work. Alternatively, the leader may give everyone a reward.
Under inappropriate leadership, the Solid Citizen adopts an attitude of ‘it’s good enough’. He does not seek to up his game and over time his performance may deteriorate.
In the case of an Underperformer, the inappropriate leader does nothing, or does the work himself, or lowers the standard, or assigns tasks to someone else, or transfers the person or makes him redundant – or simply complains to colleagues about the Underperformer. The Underperformer continues to be sloppy, lazy or even deliberately malevolent, with a demeanour of ‘how little can I do without being fired?’