By Ann Boehm, July 17, 2019

Our friends at the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) Office of Policy and Evaluation recently released a research brief called Remedying Unacceptable Performance in the Federal Civil Service. It’s nice to know the MSPB is functioning, even without any Board members (yep, we are still waiting on Senate confirmation of the President’s three Board nominees).

The brief’s top recommendation for handling poor performance is to “hire the right people.”  Gee, thanks for that advice. Just in case your crystal ball isn’t always working properly and you aren’t always able to hire the right people, here’s the big takeaway from the rest of the research brief (and based on my own years of experience): Talking to employees works.

In case you feel like you’ve tried everything with problem employees, don’t despair. You’re not alone. Apparently, three fourths of the supervisors surveyed reported taking 10 (!) different approaches to deal with poor-performing employees. “Houston, we have a problem.”  (OK, I know that’s a movie quote and not the historically accurate statement. You get my point.) Supervisors need to figure out a more efficient way to handle poor performers.

The brief states “supervisory support has a relationship to the quality of an employee’s performance, with the most supportive supervisors tending to have the best performers.”  Easy enough.

Here’s what you have to do to be supportive – talk to your employees (are you catching on to my theme?)  And it’s perfectly legal to do so.  Believe it or not, at a training session I recently conducted, supervisors had been instructed by human resources professionals not to talk to their employees about performance. They were told it could lead to litigation. Um, so can getting a scalding cup of coffee at the McDonald’s drive through, potentially. That’s just lame and incorrect advice!

If you aren’t sold yet, read this line from a footnote in the MSPB research brief. “Employees who agreed that they feel comfortable talking to their supervisors about doing the things that matter to them at work and that their supervisor supports their need to balance work and family were more likely than others to report:  (1) engaging in strong performance behaviors; and (2) that their performance had been rated at the highest level in their appraisal system.”

That’s so powerful, you may want to reread it!

Here are some other things that the brief found effective: monitoring the employee’s work by providing feedback and coaching; communicating; providing guidance on expectations; and discussing possible negative consequences. On this last point – discussing possible negative consequences – I can already hear the lawyers advising, “Don’t do that.  They may sue you.”  Oh, please. It’s not illegal to tell an employee he or she has to do the job correctly or he/she could lose it. In fact, you owe it to the employee. According to the folks at the MSPB, it works.

My friends, I know you’re busy people.  I know you don’t get paid extra for being supervisors.  But help yourselves and your organizations. Take the time to talk to your employees – the good ones and, more importantly, the struggling ones. It’s legal. It’s effective.

Let me know if you have any success or new insights. You could end up in The Good News! [email protected]

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