“Take 1” – Dealing with Poor Performance

I really hate confrontation. In fact, I don’t even like tension in a conversation. But sometimes in leadership we need to have some hard conversations with our people about their performance. These are not fun. In fact…

If these conversations are fun, you should probably not be a leader.

So how do you encourage a poor performer? How do you graciously let someone go? Let’s put one minute on the clock and start the (difficult) conversation.

Apart from prayer, before entering the conversation you really should try to determine if this is an “inability” issue or an “effort” issue. Each has a different dynamic.

Inability Issues

“Inability” issues (like a vocalist who is tone deaf) are best addressed by first giving strong affirmation of the person’s value. That person matters to God. That person matters to your church/organization. That person should matter to you. Let them know that. I’ve been in these conversations and they are really hard to enter into. Starting the conversation on a positive note is important.

I do have one caution when opening the conversation. Avoid using questions like “how do you feel about your role?” or “how do you think things are going?” These questions will often force the person to say something nice about how much they love the role. It can make what follows much harder. Instead, I would encourage you to open the conversation with a phrase like “I sense there is a struggle in [blank] …” or “I sense you are struggling to [blank] …” With this approach, I’ve been amazed at how many times the person also realizes the struggle. In some cases, I found that the person was already looking for a way out. Note: sometimes offering more training can help. But in many casess it just prolongs the inevitable.

Always end these conversations with affirmation. Perhaps help the person find an area that is a “fit” for them. God made them for a purpose. You might be the one to help them to help them find it. (Check out the resources below for more information.)

Effort Issues

“Effort” issues (things ranging from a shaky camera all the way to poor preparation or lack of timeliness – a.k.a. “being late”) should be handled with a different touch. Many times, if a person’s performance has worsened, it could be related to an outside situation. Illness, family problems, job issues and life in general can all take away from a person’s ability to function at a high level. Take a moment to listen and care for your people as you enter into an “effort” conversation… perhaps this will get at the root of the problem. Many volunteers have a strong sense of obligation. They will keep serving no matter what is happening in their lives. This can lead to poor performance in times of outside stress. Perhaps they simply need a break.

If the issue is truly one of laziness or sloppiness, take a lesson from Tony Dungy as you approach the person. Tony Dungy was a Super Bowl winning NFL coach. He was known for many things, but one that stood out was the quiet voice that he used with his players. Many people thought he would not make it as an NFL coach with this personality and approach. He proved them wrong. His book “Quiet Strength” speaks to this as well.

When his players weren’t putting forth their best, Tony would quietly and personally use simple phrases like “I know you can do better” or “I’ve seen you do better”. Tony never made a scene. This was usually just a one-on-one exchange. Check out this very cool segment on the “Indianapolis Colts Super Bowl XLI” DVD comparing Tony’s coaching style to other coaches.

Use granted by permission of the National Football League (NFL). Content is otherwise protected by the copyright holder – NFL Productions 2007

There’s a lot of power in a simple sentence like “I know you can do better”. It affirms the person’s ability and encourages them to be their best. It reminds them that their work is not unnoticed. His players, however, have shared the impact he has on them. Check out what they have to say here.

We can have that same impact on our teams. So to you leaders out there, let me encourage you with this:

I believe we can all do better.

For additional resources check these out:
1. Children's Ministry.com - 9 Reasons to Fire a Volunteer—and How to Do It
2. Inc - How to Fire a Volunteer
3. Sundaymag - When It’s Time to Fire a Volunteer
4. Ask a Manager - How to fire a volunteer
5. Charity Village - When it's no longer working: How an organization can gracefully exit from a volunteer relationship
6. Casa for Children - How to Fire a Volunteer and Live to Tell About It
7. Non-Profit Hub - How and When to Let a Volunteer Go
8. Volunteer Power - Firing High Maintenance Volunteers
9. Intuit - When and How to Fire a Nonprofit Volunteer