Updated: Apr 23, 2019
We have a couple of employees who will be returning from a leave of absence. Neither was meeting the mark regarding performance when they left. In their absence, other employees have stepped up to fill in where needed, and we are quite impressed with their good work. We understand the need to be compassionate to those returning from leave, but this episode exposed a problem for us: getting managers to document performance expectations. This was not done in the past, and now new supervisors are forced to deal with it. How do we address this? What should we do?
-- Happy/Sad in Government, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
From your description, it appears that the former supervisors tolerated mediocre performance, while your new supervisors have higher standards. Now that the employees are back from leave, you must address the gap in performance. That’s both good and bad news.
The bad news is that you cannot do much to make up for past performance, so you must look to the future to correct things. It could require a lot of supervisory stamina to straighten things out.
Nevertheless, take heart that your new supervisors are making high performance a priority and providing the leadership needed to make this happen. Working with employees who didn’t have to perform well in the past will test their motivation and abilities. Having new supervisors at the helm, though, will ease the transition for employees.
Help your new supervisors set clear expectations, establish performance measures and reward/recognize good performance. Establishing ground rules should help your supervisors motivate employees to perform at higher levels. Holding employees accountable while at the same time providing coaching, guidance and recognition ought to improve the situation.
Remember to approach employees with confidence in their abilities and respect for their trustworthiness. If you expect employees to fail, they will. It also is possible that the employees did not get along with their former supervisor, causing their motivational levels to suffer. Give them the benefit of the doubt and focus on the positive. Provide as much praise as possible and address performance issues without delay.
What if employees don’t turn around their performance? With documented performance expectations and follow-up coaching, you are now on solid footing to implement progressive discipline if it is warranted. Hopefully, you won’t have to consider that.