Engaging a disengaged team member can be one of the more vexing manager challenges. And, the associated symptoms can be costly:
Gallup pegs the cost of lost productivity due to absence, illness and stress-related work problems in excess of $350 billion per year nationwide.
Disengaged narratives run the gamut but here are a few common themes:
- Management has allowed a steady A/B player to be left alone to do her job but the business has outgrown her. Compounding the issue is that management has failed to provide employee any real performance feedback and coaching, leaving employee with a false sense of ability.
- Personal issues have distracted and drained a usually stellar team member’s passion, focus and accountability.
- The team member was never a great fit from day one but management tolerated sub-par performance hoping they’d turn the corner.
- A team member was passed over for a promotion, received a tough performance evaluation, or possible workload increase without additional compensation.
“You manage things; you lead people.”
-Grace Murray Hopper, U.S. Navy Rear Admiral
While the root causes for employee disengagement are varied, reflective managers must confront the brutal fact that they may be co-responsible for the current situation. In the spirit of self-development, a few diagnostic questions can help understand the problem:
- Where did I disengage with this team member?
- Where did I fail to develop a trusting and effective work relationship?
- How have I contributed to this current dynamic?
- How have I failed this employee?
“Management has always gotten what it models and tolerates.”
Following candid self-reflection, here are 5 Steps for re-setting the relationship, gaining alignment on work expectations, and establishing milestones and measurements:
Step 1: Take part ownership, if necessary, of the situation and be direct with team member. It might sound like, “I apologize for not being more candid in the past, however, your current work contributions are below expectations.” The objective is to re-calibrate an effective work partnership, not be liked.
Step 2: Establish regular, structured and substantive one-on-one meetings. It’s common to hear managers say, “I stopped having one-on-ones with this employee because they ceased to be productive.” Well structured, focused one-on-ones is a trusted process for charting a new path forward with disengaged employees.
Step 3: Present facts and examples where the team member is falling short of performance expectations. Present a written list of non-negotiable work expectations. Establish clear consequences for not meeting the expectations and gain agreement from the team member. Building trust begins with making professional agreements.
Step 4: Set up the team member for success. You are not crafting an HR performance improvement plan (PIP), yet. You might have to if the team member doesn’t make forward, measured progress. First, establish clear, incremental steps for immediate action. In other words…
“If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.”
Step 5: Inspect what you expect. Monitoring, evaluating and providing regular feedback on progress are the heavy lifting of good management. Remember, your (or your predecessor’s) historical hands-off management style have enabled the employee to work in a silo. The antidote is an over correction – a very hands-on style that could last several months. These situations rarely develop overnight and neither will the solutions.
The source of many employee disengagement scenarios is often a disengaged manager. At some point the manager failed to commit to the 5 steps above. If you fell off the management horse, get up, dust yourself off, and recommit to engaging your people.