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Consider the following scenarios: Mr X works in the sales division and has been with the company for a year now. He meets the target the company set for him: 20 lakh per month. The market for the products has grown by 50% and the company revises its targets, yet Mr X continues to perform as he has been doing, without making an effort to increase his sales targets.

Responsible behaviour: The onus for good performance and work ethic lies equally on the employee and the employer.

Mr A is a good worker, but since he has been assigned to a new team under a new boss, his behaviour at work has changed noticeably. His performance is poor and he is often in the dock for not cooperating with his new team members.

When some employees don’t meet performance standards at the workplace for reasons ranging from personal to professional, what should an organization do? Is there a way for the human resources (HR) department and the managerial teams to work in tandem to get the employee back on track? HR professionals, managers and behavioural experts say the onus to perform lies both on the employee and the manager, and each must be proactive in addressing the issue and getting a good employee back into the fold and on track.

Examine the cause

When such behaviour shows up at the workplace, the managerial staff should talk to the employee about it, says Meeta Shah, psychologist and counsellor, Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS), Mumbai. The factors for it could be many, ranging from personal issues at work or home to stress or overload at work. At times, it could also be deviant behaviour, the absence of a work ethic, disinterest in work and lack of ambition or motivation to perform (both intrinsic and extrinsic), she adds.

Through their behaviour (sometimes subtle, at times abrasive) or sudden changes in company policies, managers and bosses can also evoke a negative response from employees. Amit K. Nandkeolyar, assistant professor, organizational behaviour, Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad, lists reasons why employees engage in deviant behaviour. He says the compensation or reward structure may force them to use unscrupulous means to achieve targets. Unfair policies and rules could prompt aggression and retaliation. There may be pressures from supervisors or senior co-workers to engage in questionable practices—for instance, fraudulent sales. There could be ambiguity about job performance, especially when customer preferences clash with management goals.

What should organizations do? Nandkeolyar says they should work to eradicate potential problem areas by creating an ethical climate that encourages employees to do the right thing, and support and aid trusting relationships between managers and their subordinates.

When rules matter

To achieve anything, rules must be followed. Experts say employees, irrespective of rank, should adhere to company rules. Chaitali Mukherjee, country head, Right Management, a Gurgaon-based talent and career management company, feels certain basics, such as coming on time, following company policies on client interactions, etc., are non-negotiable. “A code of conduct should be clearly defined in every organization," says Vishal Chibber, director, HR, Kelly Services India, Bangalore, a workforce solutions provider. This would deter an employee from breaking rules as he or she would be aware of the repercussions.

Leading the way

A lot can be achieved if employees feel needed at the workplace. To do that, organizations must engage with employees—this can minimize most behavioural issues, says Pallavi Jha, chairperson and managing director, Dale Carnegie India, Mumbai. “Around 95% of the time, an employee is not convinced about the relevance of his work or its importance, and the bosses do not feel the need to explain it."

Some organizations have independent teams to engage with employees whose work output is not in tandem with what’s assigned. For instance, KPIT Cummins, a Pune-based IT consulting and product engineering company, has developed the concept of Biz HR. A representative of the HR team is assigned to each strategic business unit and functional team under this programme. The Biz HR then acts as a single point of contact to guide the employee, help them perform better and address queries and concerns. The Biz HR interacts on a regular basis with individuals through one-on-one or group conversation to help employees better understand company policies and leverage the opportunities that the company offers.

Shilpa Chitre, group manager, HR, explains, “We publish a calendar for meetings with the supervisor, supervisor’s supervisor and Biz HR for individual employees, thereby providing opportunities to engage with the organization."

The onus of bad behaviour does not rest on the employee alone. Sometimes, inadequate training in soft skills is responsible for it. Companies can take various routes to integrate employees who fall off the performance map. Some opt for counselling sessions. Sharad Sharma, director and chief (HR), Vertex Customer Services India Pvt. Ltd, Gurgaon, a customer management outsourcing and business process outsourcing (BPO) firm, believes one-on-one counselling or mentoring sessions help. “Give an employee a second chance to provide enough space to shape up". He says supervisors also need to be put under the scanner for not leading by example. Also, “at Vertex, for example, we believe in peer-to-peer counselling, and that works really effectively."

Some companies believe in mentoring and coaching employees so they can work better within the system. However, it is important for organizations to “recognize and believe that every employee can change and achieve a turnaround performance", says Shrinivas Rao, CEO, Asia Pacific, Vestian Global Workplace Services Pvt. Ltd, a workplace solutions’ firm in Bangalore. “At Vestian, we have a process of mentoring and coaching followed by a progressive process of documenting a performance improvement plan. This benefits most employees a great deal. But if no improvement is seen, then necessary warnings are issued and documented and finally the employee is asked to leave the organization."

Anirudh Dhoot, director, Videocon Group, Mumbai, says that when one-on-one talks, coaching and mentoring do not achieve the expected performance at the workplace, employees are shifted to other departments where their skills can be utilized and if even that does not work, the employee has to be let go.

Keep track

Thorough background checks and verification of testimonials can minimize issues arising at the workplace, say industry experts. “A background check is vital to ensure conformity to information provided during interaction with the candidate," says Rao. “This is to ensure potential employees are a good fit for a specific role along with the work environment and culture."

Ask critical questions at the interview stage, advise experts. “Questions specific to conflict management and the idea of professionalism should be asked which will help HR determine the candidate’s behaviour and approach," says Vertex’s Sharma.

In case of middle- and senior-level hires, do a background check by reaching out to people other than the suggested references; the latter are expected to provide a glowing picture anyway. The better method, says Prof. Nandkeolyar, would be to take 360-degree feedback by reaching out to superiors, subordinates and clients, etc., from the organizations the individual has been associated with previously. This can provide a much more holistic picture and help uncover potential trouble spots.

More than anything else, organizations need to ensure that they hire the right people for the right reasons. Ramesh Kannan, director —HR, Virtusa, an IT services company in Hyderabad, says: “Hiring someone because you need to fill a vacancy quickly can create a situation where it becomes a challenge for that person to fit in, thereby creating instances when rules may not be followed. Companies also have to take the time to orient and train." That is an investment which will pay off—not just in terms of work but also with harmony at the workplace.

Finally, periodic appraisals apart, an employee’s personal file should reflect positive and negative behaviour. NMIMS’ Shah says counselling and oral reprimands should be noted in the employee’s personal file. If there is no improvement after all this, then depending on the seriousness of the offence, two written reprimands could be followed up with suspension or dismissal.

To race ahead

In today’s workplace, no employee can afford to be complacent, says Dhoot. Managers must encourage teammates to enhance skills where possible. “An employee has to be hungry for success and must upgrade his skills, which will help him to consistently perform better. Instead, if the employee continues to perform like he has always been doing, he stands to lose. The market is not stagnant and is continuously growing. Employees must keep pace with it."

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