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Ask the HR Expert: Employee Engagement & Performance Issues

Posted by NEHRA  May 14, 2010 09:00 AM

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Q. We are a retail business. Most of our help is seasonal, with exception of 3 full time employees that are kept on all year. My spouse is the "BOSS" and is easy to work for. The full time employees have full health benefits, transportation with car insurance, gas and paid vacation time during our off season. All full-time employees are very hard workers, however one of the 3 is now NOT a team player. His negativity and bad mouthing is affecting the other co-workers. It is difficult for the boss to address this problem. We have been in business for nearly 25 years, and this is the first time we have had this problem. Could you give me some suggestions in how to handle this appropriately?

A. The old saying “one bad apple can spoil the bunch” holds true with employee teams, especially a team so small. You risk disengaging the other 2 FT employees, and potentially losing them if this situation is left unchecked. You should also assume this individual is negatively impacting the seasonal staff as well. The “boss” (e.g. your spouse) needs to address this situation ASAP. Studies show that allowing poor performance to continue without consequences is a key disengagement driver.

I’m going to make an assumption that the ‘boss’ tolerates this behavior because of the value of the employee?? If so, I’d argue that the long term damage this employee will bring to the team will be greater than the perceived value the employee brings to his/her job. The ‘boss’ needs to immediately sit with the employee and outline specific examples where the employee’s behavior is negatively impacting the team’s performance and engagement. I would make sure to document this conversation, citing the specific examples, and include specific language stating that the behavior won’t be tolerated going forward. This document should be given to the employee, and should also include language such as “failure to improve in these areas will result in further disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal”. It would be ideal if you could also include an HR consultant or legal representative in the discussion (it is always best to have a third person present if possible-though given the size of the business, this might be difficult). Good luck!


Q. I was promoted to front desk supervisor in a hotel. I make decisions on my own and follow through on them. A difficult employee went “over my head” to my boss to complain, asking for more hours once the schedule (created by me) was given out. My boss later came to me asking that I give the employee more hours on the schedule, thereby hindering my ability to operate as a supervisor. How do I get my boss to stand by me in terms of my decision making, now that I’m in a supervisory role?

A. Your supervisor needs supervisory training! Until this happens however, I encourage you to first meet with your supervisor and discuss your feelings. He/she should know how you feel – specifically, that their actions served to undermine your position, and also created an environment where the employee will continue to by-pass you in the future. In essence, your supervisor will end up becoming the de-facto front desk supervisor, thereby preventing him/her from doing their own job, while minimizing the effectiveness of your job. During this meeting with your boss, I would obtain support for your “next step”: to meet with your employee to express your disappointment that he/she did not go to you first, and to request that in the future, he/she must respect your position and also respect the hotel’s “chain of command”. Good luck.


Q. What would you suggest as 1st steps to begin to change a workplace culture where it is acceptable to complete performance reviews 3 to 6 months late? I believe that the only way to correct poor job performance is to give accurate, honest, and timely feedback on performance. The same is true on rewarding and recognizing good performance. Our president and some of our senior managers say they agree, but their actions don't reflect this. Please advise.

A. One of the biggest complaints I hear from managers who need to complete the performance review form is that it is too long and it forces them to provide redundant information. Keeping the form to one or two pages in length can make the process feel much more manageable. Redundancy occurs when there are overlapping categories for comments and sometimes ratings. Many categories overlap and the manager finds him/herself thinking, “I just said what I wanted to say under Teamwork and Collaboration” and I’d say the same thing under Communication. Even worse is when the manager has to rate each and every one of those items.

The suggested format is as follows:

  • Change the name of the form to something like Performance Feedback and Planning Tool. This comes across as much more collaborative and developmentally focused than Performance Review, Appraisal or Evaluation. Those terms are old fashioned and outdated.
  • Begin with “Strengths” and include a space to build out examples and the impact.
  • Next have a section titled “Areas for Growth and Development”. Strike the word Improvement or Weaknesses from all forms. The goal of the Performance Feedback and Planning Tool is to focus on what the employee could be doing in the future as opposed to past failures (those should have been talked about at the time they occurred; not dredged up 6 months later).
  • A section should be provided for future Goals. Any item in the Growth and Development section should be moved into the goal section.
  • Finally, the employee and manager should agree on the goals and sign the signature section.
See this type of performance form with examples at

A Word About Ratings
My suggestion is to remove ratings if you can. Managers hate to rate employees and employees hate to be rated. So this only gets in the way of having a good discussion. You may now be asking, “What about documenting poor performers?” Handle low performers outside of the formal performance review process instead of using it as an avenue to document or discipline.

Help Get Your Managers Started
One final suggestion: Meet with all of your managers to help them conduct a talent review of their staff and then help them with formulating their thoughts and capturing the performance feedback and planning content in writing. Running through a few examples with your managers helps you provide performance coaching and gets them off and running with the process. It also helps the HR contact be seen as a support resource as opposed to the enforcer. By simplifying your process, reducing the form to one or two pages, including the most essential information, eliminating redundancy, making it feel less adversarial and more developmental you can win the hearts and minds of both managers and employees.

Resources: Free Talent Review Model and Instructions


Q. I work for a large company that has had several rounds of layoffs in the recent past, and I'm worried about my job security. My performance reviews have all been fairly good but it seems like my boss just cuts and pastes the same information from year to year. I don't think he's put a lot of thought into evaluating my performance or thinking about my future development. In this economy I'm feeling paranoid about my job status and want to be doing everything I can to try to ensure that I do not get laid off. How do I best position myself to be viewed by my boss as a high performer? I know there should be something I should be working on in terms of my effectiveness, but how do I get at that information in a constructive way?

A. I recently heard a story of the “cut and paste” manager who pasted another employee’s name in the review! Unfortunately this is a common scenario: the manager who just wants to get the paperwork done without spending the time and effort to provide valuable developmental information to individuals on their team. To be fair most organizations train managers on the performance management processes but neglect to provide training on thinking through and writing valuable well thought out content.

Who Are Your Trusted Advisors?
You can do two very simple things. First, identify your “trusted advisors”; in addition to your boss, whose opinion you value about your work? Your boss (if you trust his/her input), co-workers, internal or external customers and even vendors can provide you with performance feedback. Second, take the initiative to seek out feedback.

Here are two powerful questions to ask outside of and during the formal review process:

1. “Tell me one thing that I’m doing well that I should continue to do.” We all need to be clear on what’s working; what we do well and should continue with.

2. “What one thing would help me to be more effective?” We also need to know what we should be working on.

How You Ask the Question is Key
Notice how I asked a future focused question. I didn’t ask, “Tell me what you think my weakness is?” Quite frankly, I don’t want to hear about my deficiencies and asking this question only puts the feedback provider in an awkward position. Asking what I could be focusing on lets me know what I can be doing in the future to be more effective. I also want to focus my developmental goals to one area because studies have shown that we can only work on one maybe two developmental items at a time.

Ask these questions as often as you feel you need feedback and be sure to take action on what you hear. Thank those who provide you with feedback and follow up to ask if they’ve noticed a change. My research has shown that most employees don’t have regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings with their boss. The primary vehicle for getting feedback is the annual review which is the equivalent of an annual report card. By that time it’s too late to take action. Determine how often you need feedback and direction. For some of us that might be every two weeks, once a month or every couple of months. If you are lucky enough to have regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings with our boss take the opportunity to ask, “What am I doing well and what is the one thing that will help me to be more effective?”

Conclusion and Resources
Take the initiative to ask for feedback in between formal reviews. This gives your trusted advisors permission to share their thoughts and demonstrates your investment in your professional development and contributions to your organization. It also shows you are approachable and gives others the OK to provide just in time feedback because they know you’ll be receptive. Use in person communications to collect feedback or the free on-line tool,, which is an easy to use light weight version of the 360 feedback review process and is driven entirely by the employee. Check out Rypple’s on-line magazine for more ideas about why and how to solicit feedback.


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About NEHRA - The Voice of HR Featuring articles and resources for Human Resources / HR professional and hiring managers from the Northeast Human Resources Association (NEHRA).

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