I see leaders laboring to figure out how to deal with a previously good worker whose performance has declined. The leader may go from thinking the individual needs to buck up and get it done, to ignoring or avoiding the person, to putting them on a performance warning without asking what help they might need to get through whatever is impacting their performance.
One of the things that the best leaders do well is to support others. Too often, people are left to their own devices to get frustrated and walk alone. The struggles that may be impacting them aren’t only limited to work. They may come from things in their lives that happen outside of work too. In any event, they can affect the individual, the work they need to get done, and can also negatively impact the people around them.
So what’s a leader to do about that underperformer?
Ask: It might seem simplistic, but sometimes, it just makes sense to ask with gentleness, compassion and care, about what might be going on with that individual before you rush to conclusions and dismiss or fire them. They might just need a light touch of support from you in some way to get back on track. Who better to assist them? You just might have the key to helping them to bust through any barriers that are in the way. Asking them about what you’ve noticed indicates a willingness to listen, so give the gift of your two ears along with your compassion if they are willing to talk.
Don’t force yourself on them: Let them decide if they want your support. Offer it with care and without making them feel backed into a corner. Be careful of being too intrusive by just letting them know that you are there when and if they need you. Let them decide if they need it, because they may not want your help. Remember that they are whole, remarkable beings with the ability to decide for themselves what they want or need.
Don’t fix them: Nobody likes to feel like someone else is trying to fix them. Just listen even if that little voice in your head thinks it has all the answers to all of their problems. Maybe….just maybe….through your ability to listen and show empathy, you might help them to turn the corner and take care of whatever is bothering them without your excellent solutions. They need to figure it out on their own.
Know your boundaries: There are needy people out there who require more than you might be willing or able to give. Stay vigilant that you don’t agree to support them in a way that you feel resentful. Know yourself well enough to say “no” or refer them on to someone who can provide the support that you aren’t able to give.
Supporting people who need it is a gift that you give and one that you receive. It’s a two-fer, helping them, and providing some satisfaction for you and the organization as well. What have you got to lose?