What do your low performers need to succeed? (Three stories. Three approaches.)

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What do your low performers need to succeed?

When a reorganization puts you in charge of employees who scored poorly on their most recent performance review, navigating the Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) can be a challenge.

Success depends on treating each person as an individual human being.

Here are three different examples I’ve faced in my career:

1️⃣ The Culture Clash

A recent college graduate had come from another country and joined our company. His cultural background left him skeptical of women in leadership. His behavior came across as disrespectful to them and was unacceptable in our company culture of respect and value for all people.

I was encouraged to consider “coaching him out” of the organization. But I could see that the PIP did its job. His behavior was corrected. It took time and effort to repair damaged relationships with senior leaders, but eventually he became a respected member of the team, even earning high scores on performance reviews.

He was still contributing in a meaningful way a decade later when I left the company.

2️⃣ The Temporary Trauma

During a leadership transition following a reorganization, I was told that one of my new team members had become disengaged. He wasn’t contributing or meeting his obligations to the team. He was in the middle of a PIP.

In our weekly one-on-ones, I learned that the his only living parent had recently died, and he was the only one of his siblings who was still alive at the time.

He had taken time for bereavement, but things were certainly not back to normal.

If we had had an Employee Assistance Program at the time, I would have offered that, but I had no experience with those. Instead, I just gave him space to grieve and encouraged him the best I could.

Like the first, he was still a highly productive team member a decade later when I left the company.

3️⃣ The Wake-up Call

I inherited a team with one member who was regularly absent from our daily stand-up meetings, regularly showing up at noon or later.

His reason was simply that he had a hard time getting out of bed when his alarm went off. After six months of repeated promises with no lasting change, I had to fire him.

Our human resources team told me, “It doesn’t matter how obvious things are, nobody ever expects to get fired. Be prepared for pushback.”

But his response was, “I knew this was coming, because I haven’t been showing up.”

He eventually found a new job. I went to visit him some months later, and he was thriving there.

Being fired was exactly what he needed to trigger the personal change that would help him succeed.

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