Don’t Forget Low Performers, Either

Poor performers may be the result of mismatched skills, not a lack of talent. Better management can fix the issue.

What about the lowest of the low performers in an organization — the bottom 10 percent?

Initially, these employees may be the result of bad hires. But after those people quit or are let go, talent leaders still may be left with some lower performers who do just enough to get the job done, but should be doing better.

While companies don’t want to reward low performers by giving them similar compensation and recognition as mid- or high-performing workers, ignoring them isn’t a good idea, either, according to Stacia Sherman Garr, vice president of talent management research for Bersin by Deloitte.

“After two or three years, your bottom people aren’t necessarily bad,” she said. “They may just be mismatched with their manager or their skills don’t fit their role.”

They may also be going through a personal crisis that is temporarily affecting their performance — like a divorce, a new child or sick parent.

So how should talent managers deal with these low performers?

To start with, find out why they may be struggling in the job and what they think would help them improve, said Jay Conger, senior research scientist for the Center for Effective Organizations and professor of leadership at Claremont McKenna College.

If they are normally strong employees whose performance has dipped due to a personal issue, ease their stress by simply acknowledging their situation and letting them know that once they get back to where they need to be, they won’t be penalized, Conger said.

If they are struggling for other reasons, such as the lack of a specific skills or experience, managers should address that through training, mentoring or more consistent feedback on their performance.

Talent managers may also find that such low performance is not attributable to anything they’ve done, but rather it’s the result of the way they are managed.

“You may have a visionary working under a manager who is very detail-focused, or vice versa,” Conger said. “Under a different boss, that same person could flourish.”
Sometimes poor performance is the result of a low-performing manager.

“If a specific manager has a lot of turnover, consistently low performance ratings or low engagement ratings, that should be a red flag,” Conger said.

In these cases, rather than penalizing the employees, hold managers accountable.

This article originally appeared in Chief Learning Officer's sister publication, Talent Management.