Federal Manager's Daily Report

Most of the techniques that federal managers find the most effective in dealing with under-performing employees involve better communication, the MSPB has said, based on findings of a survey that asked which of more than a dozen approaches managers had used and their results.

Nearly all of the managers polled had used each of the most five techniques found most effective overall, including the top one, monitoring the employee’s work more carefully, deemed effective to some extent or a great extent by 47 percent.


The next most effective, in the words of a new article in an MSPB publication, involved:

Provide feedback and coaching. It is not surprising that feedback and coaching would be rated among the most successful approaches given how useful feedback is for enhancing the performance of most employees . . . there is a strong relationship between timely and constructive feedback and higher performance appraisal levels, as well as better self-reported performance behaviors. Employees who reported receiving more timely and constructive feedback were also less likely to report that their work unit had weak or unacceptable performers.

Communicate expectations orally and in writing. While there are legal and administrative reasons to provide and document this guidance, communicating expectations can also be a matter of fairness as well as simply a sound investment of time. It is only fair to ensure that employees know what is expected of them. Furthermore, if an employee is skilled and merely misdirecting those skills because of a misunderstanding about what management expects, helping the employee to redirect those efforts is far better than allowing the efforts to remain misdirected. It also may not be in the interest of the government to remove a skilled employee who could have performed well with clearer direction, only to start over again with another employee who may also labor unsuccessfully under unclear direction.

Discuss potential negative consequences. Merely communicating the presence of a problem—such as saying “I’m not happy about your performance”—does not necessarily communicate the seriousness of that problem. A warning—which goes further, saying “I’m not happy about your performance, and here is what may happen if it continues”—makes the supervisor’s displeasure and determination clear. This, in turn, might motivate the employee to improve or to voluntarily depart the organization to avoid that consequence.”

See also, Most Supervisors Not Confident They Could Remove Problem Employees

Federal Manager’s Handbook, 5th Ed.