When a New Team Member Isn't Working Out

With January and February being heavy hiring months, it’s likely that you have some new additions to your team. Being thoughtful and deliberate with your new hire’s first 90 days on the job will make them that much more successful down the road. But if you’re already noticing some bumps, this is the time to have a frank conversation about your expectations, where they’re not delivering, and how you can help them get there. Follow these steps when you find yourself wondering whether a new employee is up to snuff:

  1. Act. Don’t let the issue go unaddressed. In an ideal world, things would work themselves out over time, but in reality, you leaving the employee in the dark will cause the problem to fester and your frustration to build. Once you’ve identified there’s an issue, take steps towards solving it immediately.
  2. Consider the root cause. An employee’s performance typically isn’t good or bad independently of the system they find themselves in. In fact, research suggests bosses are often complicit in an employee’s underperformance. Before determining they’re incapable of the work they were hired for, consider the systems in place that may be causing the problem. Did they receive a proper onboarding? Are they “drinking from a firehose” and overwhelmed with information? Do they understand your expectations?
  3. Engage them in finding a solution. It’s tempting to get this conversation over with quickly, as it may be uncomfortable, but “do better next time” is not enough. Have a direct and honest dialoguewith the underperformer to share what you’ve observed and how it isn’t lining up with your expectations. Help them understand what success in the role would look like to you, and steer the dialogue towards collaborating on an improvement timeline. Keep in mind, it’s possible both you and your employee will need to make changes to get there.
  4. Set goalposts. In order for this conversation to be taken as a directive, and not just a friendly suggestion, there need to be clear expectations for the next steps and outcomes. Get their commitment to measurable and achievable goals that’ll show the improvement you need. Depending on the severity of the problem, this may be where the “X needs to change by Y or else Z” conversation happens.
  5. Stay connected. During this development period, your employee needs to know you have their back. Show your support and evaluate their progress through regular check-ins. Look for things they’re doing well and recognize their efforts by celebrating wins whenever possible.

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