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The underperformance doomsday scenario

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Benito L. Teehankee

The View From Taft

After years of debate and wrangling among legislators, workers’ associations and employer groups, the Security of Tenure (SOT) bill is now on the desk of President Rodrigo R. Duterte for signing. The bill seems sure to become law since the president himself declared it a priority based on his campaign promises.

Business groups are quite worried, with some hoping that the president vetoes the bill. Employers Confederation of the Philippines’ (ECoP) Chair Edgardo G. Lacson reportedly argued: “For regulations to provide punitive sanctions, we believe that these are disincentives to investment. No investor in their right mind will do business in a country where they are intimidated and threatened to be put in jail should they be found non-compliant, especially with the kind of labor inspectorate and labor justice system we have right now.”

This doomsday scenario keeps many business leaders up at night. They worry that the SOT law will trigger a chain of events that could go something like this: With the law in effect, underperformance among workers will increase. Management will spend a lot of time dealing with problem employees whom they cannot easily dismiss. This would be a nightmare for many managers by itself, but it gets worse. Problem employees will bring down productivity and companies will need to spend even more resources, even on more employees, to make up for the drag. The cost of doing business in the country will spike, and business investors and locators will go elsewhere.

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But does it have to be this way? What if managers found ways to inspire, train, and engage workers to ensure productivity and competitiveness? And what if managers could deal with underperformers effectively instead of wishing to fire them at will?

What do we mean by underperformance, anyway? Underperformance can show up in basically three ways. The worker may fail to do the duties of the position or do them below the required standard. The worker may fail to comply with policies, rules, or procedures in the workplace. The worker may behave in a negative or disruptive way which affects co-workers.

Dealing with poor performance is not a job most managers enjoy. Confronting poor performers can be emotionally draining and, besides, managers feel that there are more productive uses of their time.




But managers are uniquely positioned to deal with performance issues; it’s part of the job. The good thing is that managers can deal with the underlying causes of underperformance. These include unclear expectations and consequences, interpersonal differences, poor job fit, a lack of coaching and feedback, and low morale. Managers can develop customized solutions for each type of cause. Just like a doctor dealing with a patient’s health issues, a manager needs a systematic approach to dealing with performance problems. The manager starts by clearly identifying the problem and its impact on the work unit and the company as a whole. Is the employee’s excessive web browsing seriously delaying deliverables? Is the employee’s cutting corners in procedures causing regulatory risks for the company? Is the employee’s aggressive verbal style disrupting teamwork and lowering morale?

The manager needs to meet with the worker to discuss the problem. In a comfortable and private place free of distractions, the manager should discuss the issue in specific terms the worker can understand. The worker needs to have a clear idea of what the problem is, why it is a problem, and how it affects the workplace and the company’s goals. The manager needs to listen to the worker’s point of view as they discuss the reasons behind the issue. It also helps to build the worker’s self-esteem by recognizing his or her strengths.

The manager must engage the worker in devising a joint solution to the problem. A worker who has contributed to the solution will be more likely to accept and act on it. The discussion should produce an agreement which details the manager’s expectations of the worker over a specific period, clarify the roles and responsibilities of the worker, and include strategies for support, training, and development for the worker.

The most crucial step — which most managers will forget — is to set a date for another meeting to review progress against the performance agreement laid out in the last meeting. The manager should keep a written record of all discussions relating to underperformance since this becomes an objective basis for monitoring, follow-up, and in extreme cases, legal action.

The doomsday scenario is not inevitable if managers focus on engaging underperformers to help them improve their work results. Managers will need to commit time to coach underperformers but the payoff will not only be improved productivity and competitiveness for the company but loyalty and positive morale for the workers as well. For the new generations of workers, especially, this is the only way to manage.

 

Dr. Benito Teehankee is the Jose E. Cuisia Sr. Professor of Business Ethics and Head of the Business for Human Development Network at De La Salle University.

benito.teehankee@dlsu.edu.ph

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