Managing Employees

What to Do When Your Employees Aren't Living Up to Expectations

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It’s easy to become frustrated when it seems employees don’t listen. But it falls to the leader to figure out how to get staff fully on board with the company's plan.

I’m the first to admit I can be impatient or unclear at times. Sometimes what I say to others doesn’t really match what I’m thinking -- or what I think I’ve said. I think fast and talk fast, and details can become lost in translation. Recently, I found myself yelling at my phone -- with no one on the other end -- when I received a question via text about something I thought I’d explained three times before.

Instead of becoming angry, try to discover what went wrong and take these steps to become a better and more respected leader.

Related: Motivating the Negative Nancy on Your Team

1. Find the root cause of the problem.

It’s critical to identify what caused the breakdown in communication. Here are some common culprits:

Not connecting the dots. A manager will think about the big picture for months before sharing details. Often the boss is so familiar with a certain concept that he or she doesn’t realize important details are being skipped during an explanation. When presenting an idea for the first time to an employee, start from the beginning and explain the concepts slowly and in detail to provide the full picture.

Employees' thinking differently than a manager. Most entrepreneurs are visionaries, but employees often end up being the ones responsible for executing their ideas. Don't assume employees are immediately on the same wavelength with the manager. Plus, designers think differently from developers or salespeople. Consider the information each employee needs for his or her specific role.

Talking too fast. With passion comes excitement. With excitement comes rapid speech. Rather than putting employees in the awkward position of asking the boss to repeat herself, slow down. And let employees know it’s OK to signal when a manager is speaking too fast.

Forgetting to tell staffers to take notes. It’s the manager's responsibility to let employees know a topic is so crucial and the details significant that they need to take notes. Employees need to know what’s really important amid multiple priorities.

Related: 9 Ways to Manage Underperforming Employees

2. Correct botched expectations

When expectations aren’t being met, follow-up is crucial. Letting things slide or assigning the task to a manager will not solve the problem. Follow up with employees to have a truly engaged and productive team.

Too often, these conversations don’t happen until they become late-night, closed-door discussions and the employee is thinking he's in trouble. Instead, use these tips to immediately turn miscommunications into opportunities for company growth:

Talk about the benefits to the team. When expectations are not being met, show employees what's desired and how the expected result will be best for the team. Ask them what was confusing and how the managers can be clearer in the future.

Evaluate new approaches. Sometimes the very method of communication is the problem. Not everyone absorbs information in the same way. Try putting directions in a free-form email, on a whiteboard map or in a bulleted list. Take a walk outside while discussing things. Even changing the setting can make a huge difference.

Ask employees to parrot back the information. I once had a mentor who would ask me after a lengthy explanation, “So what did you just hear?” It drove me crazy, but he stopped doing it once it was clear I understood things.

Make sure employees are operating in their zone of genius. If certain employees aren’t performing in an area in which they excel, that doesn’t mean they won’t be strong operating in another area.

Be personal. Build rapport with employees to make them feel like everyone is part of the work family. Try something different, such as participating a fundraising walk instead of heading to the usual happy hour.

Have the hard conversation. After the manager has looked inward, given someone several chances and discovered that the problem lies with that employee, then it’s time to have the hard conversation. The best thing to do for the company, as well as the underperforming employee, is to let him or her find work to be truly passionate about.

Related: What Do Great Leaders Discuss With Their Employees?