I lead a really excellent, large team at a not-for-profit company. My question is about one of my team members who was passed to me by a peer who didn’t know what to do with her.
Since she came to my department, this person has been a below average performer and has not responded to feedback. As a result, I have put her on a performance improvement plan. Now that HR is involved, she is showing up on time, meeting her deadlines, and finally doing her job.
You’d think this would be good, but it has actually decreased my trust in her. I’m upset because it is now clear she was just coasting before—and it required extreme measures from me to get her to just do her job.
I hadn’t anticipated this odd feeling of betrayal I now have with her, and I don’t see how I can move past it. I’m afraid the minute the pressure is off, she will go back to her old ways. What to do?
Dear Feeling Betrayed,
This is ultimately a trust issue and you are going to have to face it head on, because the only way to go at trust issues is by talking about them directly. When the timeline for the performance improvement plan runs out, sit down with your employee. Tell her you are thrilled with her improvement. Make sure you properly acknowledge exactly what has changed for the better and the impact it has had on you. Set clear expectations for future work and the standards you expect from here on out.
Ask her what her experience has been, and listen carefully to her responses. You may very well find out what has shifted for her—it’s possible she was unclear about expectations until now. You can use her answers to assess whether or not you will be able to trust her moving forward.
If you don’t think you’ll be able to trust her, you’ll have to tell her that the whole series of events has impacted your trust, and then tell her what she will need to do to rebuild trust with you. You can use our ABCD Trust model to help you identify the micro-behaviors that build or erode trust. Or you can get Ken Blanchard’s book on the topic. Both of these resources will help you take some of the emotion out of the process so that you can discuss the behaviors that need to be addressed.
Take the opportunity to have your employee share what would increase her trust in you as well, as most likely that also has been impacted by this experience.
I am not saying the two of you will be able to get past this and end up having authentic conversations that bring you closer to each other. But there is a chance—so since you have come this far, what do you have to lose? Worst case, she goes right back to her old ways and she’s out. Best case, the two of you are finally talking about what matters most and you do great work together in the future.
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