Candid Conversations with “Disengaged” Employees


A few years ago I was asked to coach an employee because the manager realized the person was not demonstrating his potential nor supporting the culture.  The coaching engagement was a bit unusual because most of our leadership coaching focuses on “Star” employees or ones with high potential.  The manager hoped the coaching would motivate the employee to buy in to the culture and become a high performer.

While we’ve had success doing this in the past, I could tell it wouldn’t work this time.  In fact, I told a guy that if I were he, I would quit (which he eventually did).  However, the initial conversation with him came across as dramatic.  He couldn’t believe I would be so candid but I knew the employee wanted to do something else and there wasn’t upward mobility for his skill set.  You don’t show a person any dignity by telling him to stay in a job that they’re not suited for or won’t be happy in.

I would rather absorb the organizational complication of figuring out how to fill a role instead of keeping an employee in a role that will just drift by.  The employee will be better off as well as the organization. Helping employees achieve their personal vision inside or outside of your organization will help team members think about what’s really important to them. Continuously doing this will ensure you have a team that’s passionate about the company and will put in the extra effort to make something extraordinary happen.

Zappos has an amazing policy I wish all businesses could afford.  When Zappos hires you they give you an offer letter and right after you sign it the manager hands you a three-month salary package to quit the job you just took. The offer stands for the entire first year. What Zappos knows is that it costs an organization too much to have employees drift. The leaders cannot afford to lead a team with people who don’t WANT to be there, people who are actively sabotaging internal energy, even if it’s not on purpose.

If you’re reading this and you’re a leader and know there are people on your team who are not operating at a high efficiency or high productivity rate, you may not have the right people on your team.  However, before you assume the issue is with the employee, you should make sure the issue is not with the manager.  Ineffective managers can be the root cause of employee issues.

I think the most important thing to do is realize that holding onto the lackluster employees could be keeping you from hiring the employees you need.  You could also be keeping employees from the opportunity that waits ahead of them. The people you are leading are likely moms and dads first.  They are people who had dreams of what they wanted to do when they grew up.  So if they’ve gotten to this place in their life where they are unproductive or in a funk, your job as their leader is to not necessarily manage the position they have, but to lead them as individuals, even if that means leading them out of their current position.

Performance Culture developed a performance management software to help leaders have these “crucial conversations” with employees and managers.

Author: Dallas Romanowski

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