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poor performance - stop letting the slackers slide

Why So Many Managers Tolerate Poor Performance (and what to do instead)

by | Aug 28, 2023 | By Karin Hurt and David Dye |

Do You Tolerate Poor Performance or Let the Slackers Slide?

Have you ever found yourself reluctant to hold an employee accountable because you worry they will leave or quiet quit? Or you let a performance issue fester for fear of not being liked? In this article, we address the common reasons so many managers tolerate poor performance, and what to do instead.

6 Reasons Managers Tolerate Poor Performance

Here’s a gut check if addressing performance issues is hard for you. Do any of these common mistakes sound familiar?

1. Unclear Expectations

You haven’t done the work upfront to define success. So everybody’s frustrated. You’re frustrated with their poor performance, and the poor performer is frustrated with you. Perhaps you’ve tolerated mediocre performance in the past, and now it feels tricky to reset expectations.

Here’s the good news. It’s not too late to reset expectations. Here are two articles filled with practical tips that will help.

How to Practice Start Team Accountability if You Never Have Before

How to Reset Performance Expectations For Better Results 

2. Guilt

firing someone with compassionYou worry you haven’t done enough to support, develop, encourage, build confidence in, empower, or recognize an employee. If that’s true, you’re right-you have more work to do. But if you’ve invested in the employee again and again and it’s still not working, it’s possible that this is not the right fit. Stop feeling guilty. You need to do what’s right for the greater good of the organization, the team, and that person.

If you need help holding accountability or performance feedback conversations, start here.

How to Provide More Meaningful Performance Feedback

And if you need to fire someone with compassion, this will help. How to Be Okay When It’s Time to Fire a Poor Performer

3. False Morale

We’ve seen many managers, what we call “Pleasers” in Winning Well, worried about building morale, who actually destroy it. If everything everyone does is “just great,” the people who really give their “all” will wonder why they do. We can’t tell you how many times we’ve had the rest of the team thank us for addressing poor performance. Of course, such conversations are private, but your team is more astute than you may think.

4. Saving Face

You hired the guy. Perhaps you even convinced your boss that he was “the one.” If you’ve done everything you can do to make it work, but it isn’t going well, it’s far better to admit you were wrong, learn from your experience, and move on. Don’t magnify one poor decision with another.

5. Fear

Maybe you’re understandably a little scared. Perhaps you’re not sure how to approach the situation. There’s often nothing harder to do than address poor performance or remove someone from your team. It’s never easy, but it does get easier with preparation and practice. Practice your conversation with a peer or mentor. Use the INSPIRE method (more here). Plan the conversation, and show up curious.

Great teams hold one another accountable

6. Lack of Perceived Alternatives

I (Karin) can recall countless times in my corporate job when someone would call me for an internal reference for a poor performer they were about to hire.  After I shared a long list of poor performance issues and concerns, the person was hired anyway.

One hiring manager actually told me, “Well, Karin, you have very high standards. I’m not sure your expectations are realistic. I’m sure the person will do just fine.” And then they wouldn’t succeed.

When the labor market is tight or you have a limited set of choices, the answer isn’t to lower your standards. Reinforce what success looks like and establish a plan to help the person get there if they can. And if they can’t, reorganize, adapt, or change how your team functions. Trying to make a bad fit work will only frustrate them, you, and the entire team.

If you’re looking for more tips like this, you might enjoy our first joint book, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results- Without Losing Your Soul. The exciting news is we just recorded a NEW AUDIO version (the first edition was read by a narrator, due to the continued popularity our publisher asked us to record it. the new version is available for pre-order now and will be released October 31st, 2023.

Your Turn

What are the biggest mistakes you see managers make when they tolerate poor performance? How do you encourage them to tackle the performance issues head-on?

Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today!

Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today!

5 Comments

  1. Jim Rutherford Johnston

    I find that the answer often lies in poor communication of the biz`s strategy and the expectations within the implementation plan.
    In other words a big disconnect.
    In my book Strategy Drivers Deliver we address both issues. This book is a User`s Guide to this tricky topic.
    Both Karin and David have made us think. Good work both.

    Reply
    • Karin Hurt

      Thanks so much for expanding the conversation, Jim. You raise such an important point here. So true…

      Reply
  2. Tim Bowman

    In public service, the answer is that upper management is unwilling to deal with poor performers who hide behind unions and bury them in mountains of accusations and appeals to the point that they just don’t want to deal with it, thereby leaving the poor first-line supervisor holding the bag on how to deal with this person.

    Reply
    • Karin Hurt

      Hi Tim, Thanks so much for expanding the conversation. We have certainly seen this too, and I agree that it can be a significant issue. We do have some government clients (Federal and local) who have been working at this very thing and making a real effort to teach leaders how and why to have important accountability conversations– and yes, a vital part of that is ensuring they have genuine support from above. Thanks!

      Reply
    • David Dye

      A dynamic that certainly happens in private organizations as well. And an important reminder for all leaders to be aware of what their discomfort will cost everyone.

      Reply

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Karin Hurt and David Dye

Karin Hurt and David Dye help human-centered leaders find clarity in uncertainty, drive innovation, and achieve breakthrough results. As CEO and President of Let’s Grow Leaders, they are known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. Karin and David are the award-winning authors of five books including, Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Powerful Phrases for Dealing with Workplace Conflict. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. David Dye is a former executive and elected official. Karin and David are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.

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