Tips to Correct Poor Performance

When employees are no longer motivated, they tend to turn in work late, lack focus on assignments and fail to be the strong team players they once were. No matter what the specific symptom of poor performance, managers must be vigilant for these negative changes and prepared to combat them in a constructive manner. Poor performance can often be the result of depressed employee motivation and requires a response that not only corrects the behavior but addresses underlying needs.

Leaving performance challenges and issues unchecked is dangerous. An employee’s performance can not only reflect poorly on a manager’s abilities, but also create a domino effect of issues in the work group. Companies are also left vulnerable as employees whose issues aren’t resolved often quit or are fired. The result can be expensive, as it costs more to hire and train new employees than it does to help existing employees make a change.

By helping employees overcome their professional challenges in a direct and collaborative way, leaders not only promote the desired behavior change, but also help employees tap into their sources of intrinsic motivation.

Decades of research has found that all people are motivated by the satisfaction of three basic needs:
• Competence: the need to feel valued as knowledgeable, skilled and experienced.
• Relatedness: the need to collaborate with colleagues and co-workers.
• Autonomy: the need to exercise self-regulation, within guidelines, to achieve business goals.

These needs should be top of mind when offering coaching on performance issues. By leveraging needs-based coaching, managers are empowered to have tough conversations with their employees in which the employees feel heard and have a role in creating the solution. Rarely are performance conversations successful when the employees feel attacked or solutions are being dictated to them without their input. By keeping an employee’s motivational needs top of mind, leaders can better guide these complicated coaching moments.

Armed with a greater understanding of what motivates an employee, managers can be equipped to successfully execute the following steps to lead a productive performance improvement conversation:

Adopt the employee’s perspective. An employee’s unique perspective is the “truth” from which that employee operates. Effective coaches and managers develop a deep understanding of employees’ perspectives as a basis for performance conversations. Managers can best understand the employee perspective by researching the situation thoroughly from all angles to figure out the real issues at play, and speaking with the employee to:
• Establish a partnership with the person and a common commitment to find a solution.
• Allow him or her the opportunity to share his or her perspectives.
• Ensure that the employee is not in denial.

Communicate in an informational way. Information helps employees understand how their performance is affecting the team and company, as well as the exact nature of the issue. Managers should be honest and direct, but should avoid controlling or judgmental communication as it blocks the three motivational needs.

Generate opportunities for choice. Effective coaching offers meaningful choices and allows active involvement consistent with all three needs. Managers should help employees realize the choices they have for improving their behavior by collaboratively building a workable plan that:
• Includes practical milestones that the employee should achieve.
• Assesses any need for training or retraining.
• Agrees on a timeframe for the changes.

Resolving employee performance issues can be a challenge for managers because it requires addressing both the employee’s actions as well as the underlying issues driving the performance fumbles. By understanding how motivation drives employee behavior, leaders can be empowered to leverage needs-based coaching to guide employee performance improvements and success.

Sharon Daniels is the president and CEO of AchieveGlobal. Her areas of expertise include training and organizational development, and she has more than 25 years of experience in general management and leadership. She can be reached at