December 8

How to spot a struggling employee and get them back on track…

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The big misconception is your employees should be 100% percent every time they come into the workplace. However, as we encourage them to bring their whole selves to work and not just the pieces, the reality is, we can’t get one without the other.

The common mistake managers make is focusing on the symptom of under-performance as the problem. So, how can you tell someone is struggling?

Sometimes it can be subtle shifts in your employee that creates a change in how they “show up” to work. It could be…

  • A change in the their mood, either less happy, sad, or more irritated
  • A decline in their performance or
  • A change in their communication within the team or towards clients

In most cases they feel the need to hide that they are feeling overwhelmed and burnt-out for fear of being potentially fired or reprimanded for not being able to complete the work or meet expectations.

Before jumping to conclusions and create the space for your employee to feel supported.

An employee’s motivation is a direct result of the sum of interactions with his or her manger. – Bob Nelson

Coaching a struggling employee to get the back on track, starts with asking the right questions, not making assumptions. So, before you jump in…

Be clear on the issue

Be open and communicate with the employee

Isolate the cause of issue and

Be aware of your own management style, your shortcomings, and limitations

Ask inward questions to help you reflect internally on your own awareness.

Have I set clear expectations?

Am I being realistic with timelines and the measure of quality?

Have I provided enough tools and support to get the job done?

Have I been fully engaged with my team and haven’t been operating from a place of stress, overwhelm or lack?

Ask outward questions to check in on what and why of the changes in your employees…

How have you been feeling lately with the work you’ve been doing?

Is there anything that is causing you to feel stuck?

Do you still feel challenged? Or what is something you feel that may not be challenging as part of the role?

Do you still feel like you are making an impact with the work you are doing?

Here’s how you can be more proactive at approaching your employees before it affects their performance….

Get to know your employees: This may seem obvious, but with so many pressing demands, and pressures to deliver, getting to know your employees on a deeper level might be a lot harder to do. But don’t skip this step, schedule calls that have no direct agenda to the business, but just as a touch point to check in and connect. You can’t measure what you don’t know. If you are only measuring based on output then that is a flag on your own development on how involved you are as a leader. If the above is out of character for you, then your employee will need a bit more warming up to the idea that you may actually care about them, and not just the outcome of what they are working on. Focus on how you can bridge the gap. If you know your employees, you will know when they are struggling. Make it a practice to get to know your team.

Check in with your team. Just because they say, “yes, I’m Ok” doesn’t mean they don’t need anything: With the shift to virtual and remote teams, being able to visually identify when your team or employee might be struggling may be hard. Schedule one-on-one calls or meetings to give you more perspective on how they are doing outside of the team, and how you can help. To some, the “how can I help?” is a loaded question and you may have very little time available, but not making the time will cost you more. If your team is not doing Ok, then it affects not just them, but also the team dynamics and how you deliver as a leader. Genuinely find out how they are doing, offer the support and connect. Your team members will remember this, and it will help to build trust within your relationship with the team, if done right.

Meet your staff where they are: Avoid applying the same method with each employee. People have different needs. The extroverts, the introverts, the more senior and the junior team members, all have different needs that must be met. Based on the conversations with your team and individual employees, identify what may be the best way to communicate, and motivate your team to get results. Be transparent with your expectations. Don’t use the same approach to address the problem, a bonus or implementing beer Fridays, may not be the right approach to getting change.

Pay attention to the small things: Communication is essential in understanding what the needs are for your team, but communication isn’t just about talking, it’s about listening and understanding. Listening to the things your employees don’t say, and asking the right questions, or taking the actions that helps them. Be empathetic, supportive, and encouraging. Just like you, your team is often facing not just work deadlines, but they’re own personal demands. A lot of your team members have other things outside of the workplace that may affect them. Encourage your employees to try new things, give them space to make mistakes, to get it “wrong” to learn with no judgement. Support their growth, share in their challenges, on not just a professional level, but a personal level. Give them opportunity to grow, this could be just sharing stories, providing feedback, and coaching.

Understand your own role in the equation and take action: Take the time to identify where you might have shortcomings and blind spots that may not be enough to support the team or employee. Find your own learning and spend the time to invest in your own professional development. Be vulnerable in the space of not knowing and learning. You don’t have to have all the answers to be effective. Find your own peers to help you work through where you may have blind spots and find ways to lean on them for support and ideas that would improve the interaction amongst the team. One of your roles as a leader is to remove the barriers. Take the action that will create that space for your team.

Sometimes the subtle shifts are all you need to bring awareness, check-in, ask questions and be open to taking flexible approaches to support your team. They may not always align with what you have done in the past, but it might be what is needed.


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