You want to help all employees who don’t perform up to par. But it’s most difficult to manage know-it-alls who don’t recognize they need help.
You know them – the ones who say, “I don’t see the problem.” Or “You’re just being picky.” Or “No worries, boss, I got this.”
Whether it’s HR or a front-line manager who has to handle the situation, it’s never easy. You might be tempted to chalk up their attitude to inexperience, a big ego or a total lack of self-awareness.
Regardless of the root of the problem, you can’t avoid addressing it.
“A more insidious risk is that the leader will appear to condone substandard work, and competent employees may become demotivated and disengage,” says Liz Kislik, a management consultant, executive coach and blogger.
Instead, HR leaders and/or front-line supervisors want to manage underperformers who think they’re doing a great job with a head-on approach.
Be more clear about expectations
You know it’s important to set clear expectations with all employees. But when you manage underperformers who think they’re rock stars, you want to be extra clear, extra vigilant.
That’s because when you say, “It’s OK,” they hear, “It’s A-OK!!!!”
Be direct. Be specific. For instance, “You must complete this assignment by Friday at 2 p.m. ‘Complete’ means X, Y and Z are done and checked for quality. Your accuracy rate must be 93% or higher. If not, we’ll start the Performance Improvement Plan initiation. Do you understand, and do you agree to these terms?”
Offer resources and support
Many know-it-alls don’t recognize they lack skills, knowledge or gumption to do their jobs right.
They often figure if they’re in the position, they must be the right person. So they do the job to their (low) expectations.
That’s why it’s important to offer underperformers extra resources and support until they “get it.”
Try weekly progress reports, additional training or an assigned mentor who is experienced in the tasks.
Temper your praise
We know this tip is counterintuitive to almost everything we’ve ever offered in this space.
But when you manage know-it-alls, you want to hold the praise.
Not completely, of course. Praise great work, but don’t let it stand alone. Kislik suggests you link positive comments to other things you want to address. Be clear about the necessary new behavior and why it’s critical.
For instance, “Now that you’ve done X so well, I’d like you to also do Y. It’s important because … ”
Unfortunately, sometimes it’s not worth your effort to help an inflated ego.
At some point, you have to consider if you’re willing to invest more time and resources to lifting up a know-it-all.
If not, it might be time to lower your expectations … and move the underperformer into a role that better matches his or her legitimate skill level.
Similarly, consider the employee’s ability and willingness to see himself or herself in a true professional light.
Underperformers who won’t accept advice, help and additional resources, or won’t admit faults, won’t likely change.
If they still insist they’re doing just fine, it might be time to show them the door to other opportunities outside your influence.