How to deal with underperformers when your team is working remotely for the first time

Many accountancy firm owners are discovering that now their team is working remotely, it is becoming glaringly obvious who isn’t pulling their weight and not stepping up to the mark. So, we asked Heather Townsend, founder of The Accountants Millionaires’ Club, how you can help these individuals perform at the level required.

Were they performing before they were required to work from home?

Given how hard you are probably working right now, it must be very galling to realise that you are carrying some dead weight in your team. However, the first thing you need to do is consider how well they were performing when working from the office. Is this a new problem, or something that you were aware of but didn’t have the motivation to sort out before?

If they were a previously good performer…

People don’t suddenly switch off and become bad performers overnight. Something needs to have happened. And your job as a compassionate boss is to understand their world right now and what’s going on for them. For example, some people:

  • Who previously able to control their mental health problems, have found that the COVID-19 crisis has really impacted their mental state and ability to perform in their role.
  • Do not work well or are unable to work well with the distractions of home, e.g. young people in a cramped house share, or parents trying to work AND look after young children at the same time.
  • Are struggling to work without the structure of going to work or the company and accountability of people in the office.
  • Are very worried about the health of loved ones
    which is impacting their ability to perform to the required level.

Once you have root caused with your team member what is happening to impact their previously good levels of performance, you now need to remedy the situation. If they are physically being prevented from doing work, such as finding themselves as the sole carer of young children, then you will need to discuss reducing their hours or furloughing them.

If their issue is because of poor mental health, either because existing conditions have become unmanageable or they are beset by anxieties or stress at this time, then you may like to consider offering them reduced hours, sick leave, counselling or even furloughing them to help them get through this difficult time. Now if their challenges are rooted in them struggling to adapt to working in isolation whilst being at home, then your aim is to adjust your people management style with them. This means helping them:

  • Decide on a daily working routine which works for them
  • Understand how their actions are putting stress on their colleagues
  • Clarify what they can do personally to remove the barriers on their performance at the moment

To support them until they back working at a level you require you will need to make sure they know what is required from them and how to do it. For example:

  • speak to them more regularly about what needs to be done when, for example this could mean a morning and afternoon conversation with them
  • timetable in more progress checks on what they need to achieve
  • get them to clarify in writing what they believe is required of them between each progress check or supervisory call

If they were a not-so-great performer before the COVID-19 crisis hit

Sadly, the longer you leave it, the more likely you will lose the good members of your team as they are fed up of carrying the weaker performers. It can be tempting to bide your time and furlough your low performing member of the team. But this shouldn’t be a substitute for good people management of your team. After all, this problem hasn’t proven that it is going to go away when the lockdown conditions finish.

Your actions with your low performer are very similar to the ones above, i.e.

  • Clarify with them exactly what is required of them to do and how to get this done
  • Ask them what is preventing them from delivering
    the work you require to the right standard and within the time allocated
  • Show the impact their current performance level is having on the team and business as a whole.

If their performance doesn’t improve

The likelihood is that lockdown and physical restrictions on people getting together are with us for months rather than weeks. This means that if, despite your interventions and help, a team member is struggling to perform you will need to put them onto formal performance management measures. At this point, you will want to take formal advice from an employment law specialist on the steps you need to take

Many accountancy firm owners are afraid of rocking the boat and are mistaken in their belief that a ‘low-performing bum on a seat’ is better than ‘no bum on a seat’. And so, let the situation with the low performer carry on as it is. This is very much a false economy. What normally happens in this situation is other team members’ performance drops or your best performers leave for another job. The longer you leave it to sort out the team member’s low performance, the harder it becomes to rectify it and the bigger the hit to your business.

GI have found that many of their clients started using them when a team member moved on to another role. And starting to outsource your year-end accounts, payroll or bookkeeping to a reputable accounts outsourcing company like GI is a great way to increase your capacity whilst you sort out your underperformers. Many of GI’s clients have found that by starting to outsource it was the trigger for the low performers to move on.

In summary

Putting your head in the sand and ignoring the performance issues within your team may be tempting to do at the moment. But any team member performance issues are always best dealt with promptly regardless of what madness is happening around you and them.

Author Credit:

Heather Townsend is the author and founder of The Accountants Millionaires’ Club. She was featured in the 2019 Practice Ignition top 50 women globally in accountancy.

Posted in For Accountancy Practices, For Small Practices.