Dealing with underperforming staff Planning for action and managing self
Common difficulties- preparation • Lack of preparation • Lack of knowledge about industrial/legal/local policy issues. • Not having all the facts or evidence of the facts • Not having first hand information • Not leaving enough time for discussion • Not providing an appropriate space (eg seating arrangement) • Not being clear about the agenda and the consequences
Common difficulties - emotional • Fear of conflict • Fear of upsetting the person • Talking about how you feel (it’s not about you!) • Taking responsibility for others • Making assumptions • Expecting to change or ‘save’ the person • Not being honest about the situation or possible outcomes • Wanting to save them from pain, humiliation, the truth or consequences of their actions • Understating or overstating the situation – keep it in context • Exhibiting emotional responses • Allowing a “negative advocate” or “friend” to hold the floor.
Common difficulties - communication • Be careful of hearsay - ‘he said, she said’. • Trying to deal with the matter through email, either initial interview or follow up • Not keeping file notes (records of conversations) • Interrupting • Talking more than listening (and not listening actively) • Getting into direct confrontation with high conflict personalities. • Being disarmed or bamboozled as new information is brought forward, often without substance
Preparing for discussion/mediation • Be clear on the issues and facts • Prepare a timeline and details of the history of the dispute/complaint/ unsatisfactory performance • Ensure that you have all the relevant documents at hand • Be clear on the process on the policies and procedures • Understand and act on industrial and legal realities • Interview any others involved in the dispute/complaint • Set very clear guidelines as to time, place and length of the meeting • Ensure that you leave enough time • Do not leave the time open ended • Provide an agenda in writing (specifying location and timeline) with any information required from participant/s • Indicate that you are happy for them to bring ‘a friend’
Specific approaches for High conflict individuals • Realise they react aggressively because they are threatened • Be modest and matter of fact • Listen respectively and actively • Speak clearly and calmly • Provide moderate reassurance and empathy • Be realistic about boundaries and expectations • Avoid anger or emotional overreaction and do not react to staff member’s intense emotions • Remain neutral – don’t take their outbursts/blaming personally • Explain consequences calmly • Don’t interrupt, ignore of terminate too quickly • Don’t compromise in the face of anger if it doers not provide a lasting solution
Importance of “bonding” • Listen to fear and anger and empathise • Be consistent, calm • Set clear boundaries about what will and will not be done • Validate the person, but not the behaviour or performance • Avoid anger
Create structure • Set relationship boundaries and expectations • Clarify roles • Listen to emotional reaction, but limit time spent on emotional issues • Engage staff member in problem solving • Use some mediation principles, eg mutual identification of best and worst alternative outcomes • Aim to reach agreement on a way forward • Ensure that consequences are understood
Communication style • Maintain a professional distance • Remain neutral • Be respectful and empathetic • Validate the person not the complaint or action • Be honest and direct • Listen actively • Ask questions to clarify their position • Test assumptions claims made by seeking evidence • Use summaries and reframing • Use clear simple language • Check that they have understood you • Use reality checking • Identify their needs and interests and their ‘BATNA’ and ‘WATNA’
Reaching an outcome • Recognise real strengths and accomplishments • Be honest about weaknesses (and unrealistic outcomes) • Share the decision making • Explore all the options • Avoid reaching a decision or outcome too quickly • Explain the consequences of future performance issues/misconduct or not sticking to agreements • Create a process for follow up and stick to it. • Follow up with attention to detail of agreement
Protecting self • Preparation • Clear understanding of your role and responsibility to the university, the staff member and colleagues • Anger/aggression of the staff member is an instinctive response and not necessarily directed at you personally • Be empathetic, but not close to the staff member • Do not promise unrealistic outcomes or assistance • Attempt to anticipate likely reaction of staff member • Rehearse the interview/ your responses to likely negative reactions • Ensure that staff member’s friend or advocate is clear on role • Sometimes a staff member’s friend or the union can assist resolution • Ensure that Dean ( senior staff) is aware of your meeting and the grounds for it • Debrief with senior colleague, HR or Dean
Final Points • Deal with the situation promptly and positively • Prevention is better than cure • It is not in the interests of the organisation or the individual to procrastinate because it is difficult • Sometimes the people are grateful for your intervention • Remember it is about them and the workplace not you.