Q: An employee with a reputation as a low performer, both in terms of quality and attitude, is being transferred to my team. The problem is, past managers seem to be intimidated because he has a relative who is a member of the company board. How can I turn him around? —Ramon, 46, director, client services
A: Give this employee a fresh start for his benefit and to help your company.
Why not start with a clean slate? Set aside his reputation, at least for the moment, and treat him as you would any new employee.
That doesn’t mean going easy on him. Rather, be clear, direct and firm.
This will require some planning. Spend time clarifying your expectations, making sure that they are consistent with your expectations for other team members. Also have explicit consequences for not measuring up, especially if there have been repeated warnings.
Outline task-related expectations, defining what he is expected to do, along with required quality and performance levels.
Don’t neglect to outline your requirements for the intangibles. If your company has defined cultural principles, invoke them here. Then take the time to express how these principles are embodied in your team. Finally outline them in terms of individual behavioral expectations.
If this is a new approach for you, be sure to share this with the whole team to create a shared frame of reference and set of standards. In addition to being good for the team, it will protect you against accusations of singling out one person.
As he gets up and running, document performance, both positive and negative aspects. Have frequent regular meetings with him, especially at first. If your schedule doesn’t permit, consider appointing a senior member of your team you trust as a mentor for him.
Regarding their board member relation, there are a couple of things to think about.
First of all, if the board member is, in fact, protecting the employee, this may become more difficult. The key will be how management above you chooses to handle it. Realistically, it could place your position in some jeopardy if family ties prevail.
You can prevent some of your risk by getting on the same page with your boss right away about your plan for managing this person. Worst case, you may conclude that a company that centers nepotism is not the place for you, and start considering an exit strategy.
The other possibility is that this is not even on the board member’s radar. It’s possible the director would put company well-being first, as befits the role. The board member may also appreciate that the worker is being held to an appropriate professional standard.
Keep your standards high and be fair with this employee. The integrity you show will be valued by other team members and is your best chance for a good outcome.