Managing Mediocre Employees

Management discussions in Silicon Valley focus on engaging top performers and ushering out poor performers. What about the middle of the road employees, the average or adequate performers who neither set the world on fire nor make major mistakes? Most companies employ mediocre workers but few leaders make managing these employee strata a priority.

Mediocre employees fall into two categories, those who care and want to achieve and those who don't. I’ll address this issue in a multi-post series. First, let’s talk about things to consider, and then in my next post, I will explain the employee types in more detail.

Prioritize the Average WorkerAverage Employee

The most focus and effort is usually placed on your highest and lowest performers, with the first receiving praise and promotions and the latter receiving mentoring and improvement plans. However, those middle of the road employees needs to be addressed as well. “Almost by definition, they often get lost in the mix, lacking appropriate guidance and management attention. This creates an issue of not understanding who holds real potential to move up the talent curve with the right nurturing, versus those who have limited upward mobility, versus those who should not be at the company.” To identify where your employees fall you need to schedule regular performance feedback meetings, not only for the mediocre employees but for their managers as well. This helps the employees to see their shortcomings as well as how they can improve performance and it helps their managers to be more effective mentors.

Considerations for Your Transition Plan

The Muse has a great article that really struck a chord with me. Just because its “done,” doesn’t mean it’s actually over with, “After my employee had packed up and left, I imagined I’d be able to breathe a sigh of relief. Not a fan of confrontation, I was looking forward to a relaxing week sans awkward discussions about performance issues and the constant pressure from my boss to catch and fix his mistakes. But it wasn’t long after his departure that the realization hit me: He was going home to tell his wife and kids that he’d just been fired. The termination didn’t just affect him—it impacted an entire family. All of a sudden, I had this heavy guilt on my shoulders, reminding me that I was the source of that family’s new struggle. I worried that I’d jumped to conclusions too quickly, that I hadn’t done enough or given him the chance he deserved. And that hit me incredibly hard.”

If you find that this position is in fact no longer the right fit for the employee and you need to let them go, do so with a transition plan in place. This decision requires time and energy, no one should be let go on a whim, but you also can’t keep someone who is a detriment to the team. Firing someone is never easy, and you may think to handle it like a band-aid, quickly, but first look at the big picture. Did you do all you could to help the employee succeed? What will you say to the team? Are you up to date on the work, processes, and projects that are in flux? How about messaging to customers and management of relationships with key accounts? If you are replacing the role what does recruitment of a new employee entail? Timelines, training, and coverage are critical to consider. Have a plan from the time you tell your employee to the time you onboard a new one so that the transition is as smooth as possible.

Check back next week to learn more about the employees who want to achieve, but whose results are not matching their efforts.


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