How do I help a struggling employee?

To help a struggling employee, consider the following approaches based on the insights from executive coach Ed Batista:

  1. Assess the Situation: Understand the specifics of the employee's struggles. Are they a new manager finding it difficult to adjust, an early-stage employee not keeping up with growth, a talented but abrasive exec causing team friction, or someone not fitting into the company culture? Reflect on their past performance, current impact, and future potential.

  2. Reflect on Your Role: If you hired this person, identify any red flags you might have missed or discounted. If your relationship extends beyond work, consider how to balance personal and professional dynamics in the future. If you've failed to provide necessary resources or guidance, think about how you can alter your management approach.

  3. Provide Support and Feedback: Offer candid feedback, which includes efforts to make feedback less stressful and recognize the impact of the organizational culture on the feedback process. Avoid performance plans that serve merely to protect against wrongful termination suits, as they can cause constant stress and inhibit performance.

  4. Conduct Effective One-on-Ones: Establish a cadence for regular one-on-one meetings that suits the employee's job or task-relevant maturity. Ensure these meetings are predictable and rarely canceled. Encourage the employee to set the agenda to focus on issues most important to them. Use these meetings not just to provide updates but to engage in meaningful dialogue and address any thorny issues.

  5. Mentorship: Act as a mentor, not just a manager. Help the employee understand the psychological dynamics that may be contributing to their sense of urgency or dissatisfaction, such as hedonic adaptation and social comparison. Address the anxiety and emotions underlying their ambitions.

  6. Encourage Ownership and Preparation: Have the employee prepare for one-on-ones by setting the agenda and bringing up issues that preoccupy them. This encourages them to think through their challenges and allows for a more productive discussion.

  7. Ask Questions and Coach: Employ coaching methodologies by asking open-ended questions and encouraging the employee to express their thoughts and concerns. Facilitate their expression and help them work through their issues. Ensure to check in on their well-being.

  8. Reflect and Adjust: After each conversation, jointly assess how the interaction went. Ask what was useful and what could be done differently next time. Encourage continuous improvement in communication and problem-solving.

  9. Manage the Broader Impact: If the decision is made to let the employee go, consider the broader context. Before firing, determine who needs to be informed and after firing, manage the messaging to avoid misinformation and unnecessary anxiety.

  10. Learn from the Experience: Every challenging situation with an employee is a learning opportunity. Reflect on whether the person should have been fired sooner, whether the hiring or promotion process needs adjustment, and how to improve your leadership and management practices.

By taking these steps, you can create an environment that supports the struggling employee's development and addresses their challenges, while also ensuring that your actions are aligned with the broader needs of the team and the organization.