How to deal with non-performing managers and executives

Tips from the CHRO SA community on how to breach this sensitive subject.

HR leaders have a lot on their plate when it comes to navigating the transition towards a new world of work. However, while technology will have an impact of many aspects of the HR function, some things will never change. And one of those things is the art of having tough conversations.

While many tough conversations tend to happen with the lowest earning employees, HR leaders sometimes have to toughen up to face their own management colleagues. When a senior manager or executive is not performing, or being accused of sexual harassment, it is the responsibility of the HR leader to deal with the matter or at least take some action. 

How should some of these difficult moments be approached and how can you as HR leader be better prepared when it is your turn to have some tough conversations?

Here are three tips tips from members of the CHRO SA community on how to have conversations with senior employees about performance and discipline.

1 Listen to employees’ feedback about the individual 

Oracle HR Director Queen Mokonoto says there is a tendency to view employees as the root of all the problems within a business, forgetting that there are managers who are creating those problems. But if an organisation has a culture of not addressing concerns about senior managers because employee grievances are perceived as negative or putting management in a bad light, employees will either further resent the company, lose the confidence to express their grievances in the future, or even lose faith in management to actually attempt to solve their grievances.

2 Don’t take sides

Clientele Life HR Director Tshepisho Tabane says the key thing to remember is to have empathy because you have to respect people and treat your colleagues the same way that you would like to be treated. Whether it's a disciplinary issue or a matter around underperformance, you need to treat them fairly and with respect. 

“Linked to that is doing the right thing, which means following the rules and regulations as stipulated in the policies of the organisation,” she says

“Difficult conversations are sometimes even more challenging when the facts are murky and, in those situations, one should seek to establish the whole picture and avoid being perceived to be on some kind of witch hunt.”

3 Involve your line managers and exco colleagues

But dealing with non-performing senior employees is not solely within the ambit of HR, says BHBW  Head of HR Malisha Awunor who believes such matters should be handled by the respective line managers and, where it concerns senior executives, the CEO. 

"There is a tendency of thinking that it is HR's responsibility to deal with substandard performance and I fight that every day. It's so deeply ingrained in organisations that, as soon as there is any problem with an employee, you have to call HR. My view is that, as a fraternity, we have not coached and mentored our executives around having those conversations," says Malisha. 

“The absence of having those difficult conversations in a constructive manner leads to a culture of entitlement and substandard performance.  Worse still, it sets the wrong tone from a management perspective. When you engage with the executive and explain how the situation around their colleague's behaviour or substandard work is affecting profitability and leadership credibility, there will undoubtedly be a greater buy-in into the process.”