Finding Margin in Business and in Life

Is It Time To End It…Or Fix It?

As leaders of organizations, we are challenged to make decisions every day.  Many of these decisions carry with them significant consequences; none more so, perhaps, than those relating to employee performance.    Decisions involving unsatisfactory employee performance are particularly difficult and painful to process.

Often, we fall into two traps when faced with an employee performance issue.  Either we will or look the other way and hope the problem goes away over time, or we react emotionally to the situation, typically demeaning our employee in the process.  Neither alternative is ideal.  In one we’ve deferred all power to the employee; in the other, we’ve devalued that person.

There is another alternative to consider; the coaching alternative.  The coaching alternative requires an investment of time, observation, discomfort and vulnerability on our part as leaders.  We need to ask questions of ourselves and of those involved to better understand where the problems really lay.



A friend of mine told me a story about a young boy pitching his very first little league game.  He was struggling to get the ball across the plate.  It seemed the ball would fly just about everywhere else but where he wanted it to go.   The coach stood calmly in the dugout quietly observing the boy’s demeanor, his mechanics, making mental notes on specifics to work with him in the coming days.    He had already been out once to the mound to encourage and calm the boy.  And to his credit, the young man was battling through it…just barely.

Frustrated by the boy’s lack of control and the coach’s nonchalant reaction his son’s poor performance, the boy’s father stood up enraged and began shouting to his son over and over,  “Throw Strikes!”  “Throw Strikes!”  “Throw Strikes!”     It was here the boy’s fragile mental focus completely shattered.  He threw three consecutive wild pitches through the verbal barrage from the stands, then finally broke down weeping and ran off the field into the dugout.  He knew the objective was to throw strikes.  That wasn’t the problem.  He needed help with how to throw strikes.

His coach set him down in the far corner of the dugout, out of sight of the stands.  He hunched down on his knees, looked the boy in the eyes and quietly covered what went well in the game and what they would be working on together to improve his pitching mechanics.  The coach smiled, scrunched the boy’s hat down on his head as he stood up to coach the remainder of the game.

The coaching alternative asks the following questions:

    • Are we being clear in our expectations?  Have we quietly, calmly sat down face to face and talked about what is necessary to fulfill the position?  Break it down into the most basic of components, if necessary.  Clarity is the goal.
    • Are we providing the tools to meet those expectations?  If clarity regarding expectations has been achieved, it often identifies training and other tools that may be required to help the employee achieve the expected results.  Make sure the employees understand their obligations to learn and your commitment to help them.
    • Are we making time to review performance regularly?  This is a critical component of an employee’s development that is often missing.  There are so many other things that scream for our attention,but most of these things pale in importance to developing good, strong employees.  Make the time to discuss performance weekly, monthly or quarterly.  It will make a difference in your organization!
    • Does the employee share the values of the organization?  Sometimes we experience issues with employees, because they don’t share the same values.  In certain circumstances, this can be overcome over time and consistent, intentional dialogue regarding value.   In  others, an employee might just not be a good fit.   In these circumstances, it is best to let the person go.
    • Does the employee accept responsibility for their actions?  If you have an employee who takes no responsibility for their actions, you have a real problem on your hands.  The catch is we need to carefully ascertain whether we’ have made full and honest effort to help the employee be successful in their position, before we ask this question.   If we have addressed everything else and still have a rogue employee; then you are most certainly dealing with a personal character issue.  And as Sweet Brown would say, “Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That!”  Let them go immediately!

Decisions around poor employee performance are stressful.  Before you make a decision on whether to “End It” with an employee, make sure you have done what you can to “Fix It” by applying the coaching alternative.    Take the time to understand whether employee issues are skill issues or character issues by working through the questions above.  By doing so, you will likely develop a better working relationship with all of your employees, enhance the performance of your team and reduce your overall expenses, too!

Question:  What is the hardest part of confronting employee issues for you?

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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