Do You Really Recognize Poor Performing Employees?

Whenever you are dealing with people in the workplace you will always need to address performance on the job.

There are 2 sides of the performance coin. It is either good performance or its poor performance.

With employee recognition, I often get asked questions about recognizing poor performers. Recently, I was asked, “How do you recognize a poor performing employee without encouraging mediocrity?”

You know they have someone in mind when they ask this question. Consider the following questions to help guide you on this subject.

1. What is recognition and when should you recognize someone?

Recognition is mostly an intangible expression of acknowledgment and valuing of an individual or team, for their positive behaviors, their personal effort or contributions they’ve made.

When you observe or have reported to you, that an employee displayed “positive behaviors”, demonstrated a degree of “personal effort”, or made some form of positive “contributions”, that’s when an employee merits being recognized.

I have recently revised my recognition definition to include it being the transfer of positive emotions and feelings from one person to another.

If you didn’t feel a positive set of emotions towards someone’s performance there is no need, or motivation, to give them recognition. You have to feel something first yourself before you ever express positive feelings to another person

2. What are you supposed to do with a poor performing employee?

Keep in mind, that according to organizational and management experts, David A. Whetten and Kim S. Cameron, performance is a function of both ability and motivation.

Performance = Ability x Motivation

(Source: David A. Whetten and Kim S. Cameron (2015) “Developing Management Skills” (9th Edition))

Your employee may be lacking in the ability to perform yet well motivated. When you see this occur, the person likely requires education about the needed knowledge or skills training to help improve their abilities.

You may know they have the ability but for some reason, they’re not motivated to perform. Here you have to sit down with the individual, identify the barriers to their motivation, and then coach them on how they can improve.

You need to analyze the work situation and what you know about the individual. Then you can generate your own hypothesis for why you think they’re not performing before sitting down with them. A person may have been a great performer beforehand but some personal or family circumstances is interfering with their current ability

Make sure to read: Why People Don’t Do What You Want Them To and evaluate where you think your poor performer needs assistance.

The scary thing about many performance issues is that as their supervisor or manager, you’re the one who has often left poor performance go on longer than you should. Each of us carries a lot of responsibility for the people who are performing poorly where we work.

3. Can you ever recognize a poor performer?

Yes, I think you can. It might be a different form of recognition than what you would give a high performer.

Many poor performers already know they are not functioning up to speed. What you can do is give a poor performer encouragement and praise for the effort they put into the task. They may not have reached high achievement or success levels but they did do their best.

You might say something like, “I really appreciate how hard you worked to get this specific task done. Thank you!”

Your objective should be to observe and acknowledge anyone for their actions, planned strategies, and positive behaviors used to complete the job.

Stanford professor, Carol Dweck, has shown when you praise people for the effort put into a task they are more likely to work harder and longer, as well as enjoy what they do.

Do all you can to develop the skills and abilities of poor performers on your team.

Besides coaching and training, praising people for the effort and positive actions you see them do will go a long way to transforming their performance.

Reflective Question: Have you ever observed how praising a poor performer has elevated their future performance? Think about what you did to make that change come about.

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