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How to Address an Underperforming Executive

And why companies lose C-suite talent
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You know the type: He promises but never delivers. He is hardworking--just ineffective. Or, he’s just lazy.

So why are you tolerating that poor-performing exec?

Richard Greene, a regional managing partner in the Chicago office of Heidrick & Struggles, lists what to do with the poor performing exec as one of the seven questions that management teams should ask themselves, in order to grasp and address the risks of losing top talent.

Greene puts the screws to this seemingly simple question, urging C-teams to consider if their management culture “accepts anything less than stellar performance from executives.”

And if you have an underperformer on your top management team, what steps can you take? A post from the London-based strategic and operations consultancy Dalmeny Close by founder Ross Hall offers a four-step approach:

  1. Gather the facts. "Senior management cannot operate on hearsay and rumour. The specific performance of the individual must be clearly understood, documented and evidenced," writes Hall.
  2. Review. "Look at what the data is telling you. Are the targets realistic? Are they aligned to the strategy? Are they specific enough? At this point you are trying to establish whether you’re asking the underperformer to do the right thing."
  3. Remedial action. "The underperformer needs to understand quite clearly what is expected, why they are not delivering and take ownership for improving their performance."
  4. Disciplinary action. "If the underperformance continues we’re straight into disciplinary action. This is where the involvement of HR from the outset is absolutely key."

Another of Greene’s seven talent-loss questions is: “Is our senior team a collection of business unit and functional leaders or a high-performing team that together manages the enterprise?” You might think, What kind of a question is that? Of course, everyone around here feels a sense of ownership. But Greene puts the lie to this defensive reaction: “Factors such as narrowly defined incentive plans and traditional, narrow perceptions of top management roles often drive top management team members to see themselves solely as the owner or representative of their business unit or function,” he writes.

OK--but what are some realistic methods for getting senior managers to think beyond their own business function? On the Harvard Business Review blog, branding expert David Aaker suggests using “a common planning and information system” across all business units. This way, ”silo units can more easily and naturally be exposed to the strategies of other silos,” he writes. “And a common information system, if user friendly, and regularly freshened up, can capture and make available a wide array of information and provide a vehicle to exchange best practices.”

To prevent talent loss on your top team, do the following:

  • Ensure that your senior managers are clear about their goals--and the consequences of not meeting them.
  • Establish common systems and protocols that allow for various business units--and the senior execs in charge of them--to speak the same language.
  • Take steps to prevent any team members from veering onto an underperforming, individualized path.

Never let them forget, in other words, that they are part of a team.

This article was originally published at The Build Network.




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