What do you do when an employee disappoints you?

If you’ve been a leader or manager, you have had an employee disappoint you. On this podcast, I discuss what to do when this happens. Managing your own feelings about the disappointment is the first step, and there are a few other steps to take when leading through a disappointment.

When an Employee Disappoints You – Listen Now!

3 Ways an Employee Disappoints You as a Leader

There are three ways an employee can disappoint you. The first way is task-related. Maybe they miss a deadline or didn’t fulfill one of their job duties.

The second way an employee may disappoint you is that they make a decision that isn’t in line with the culture and core values of the company. Both of those can be addressed and you can work with the employee to course-correct.

The other way an employee can disappoint a leader or manager is through what I call the non-negotiables – stealing, lying, causing drama, discriminating, and other things along those lines. I call those non-negotiables because I don’t tolerate them in my workplace and, once confirmed, I will terminate employment immediately with that individual.

Steps to Take When an Employee Disappoints You

Let’s assume that you’re dealing with task-related or culture-related disappointment in an employee. Now, I’m not an HR expert or an attorney, so if you have something you’re unsure of or feel like you need additional expertise, I recommend consulting with an expert in handling employee matters.

But here are the steps I take to move through this challenge and get to the other side!

First and foremost, I check in on my OWN emotions, especially if the mistake was made by a key employee. Shock, anger, frustration, fear, and embarrassment are all emotions I’ve felt in these situations over the years when I’ve been disappointed by an employee. I can have compassion and empathy, and still have those tough conversations. I just take a deep breath and try not to REACT.

Second, I review what the expected outcome was, and how far off the team member was from that expectation. IF they didn’t have an expectation, that’s on me – I needed to communicate it upfront, and I know I can’t hold someone responsible for a standard they didn’t know existed.

Next up, I make sure I have as many of the FACTS I can gather independently before I meet with the team member. I emphasize FACTS here, because that’s what I’ll need to focus on fixing. Gather examples, that are supported by those facts, to explain how the team member fell short of expectations..

After that, I schedule the meeting. I believe in letting the team member know what the meeting is about so that they aren’t surprised and don’t feel ambushed.

Meeting With the Employee Who Disappointed You

During the meeting, I do not mince words about the expectation that was not met, and I get right into it. Once I share that with them, though, I ask them what happened, or how something got off track. And then I LISTEN. Sometimes there is a good reason that isn’t an excuse. Sometimes the employee will own the mistake right away. Sometimes I hear excuses. Sometimes it isn’t clear cut and I may wonder if I over-reacted, or even under-reacted.

Once I hear their answers, I then refocus the meeting on addressing whatever caused the work to get off course. Sometimes that one meeting is all we need to do that; but often times a written plan is needed, along with a timeline to implement, and then dates to check back in on the progress. The key here is to work on this plan WITH the person. After all, if they made a mistake, they are often the best people to fix it so it doesn’t happen again.

In a situation where an employee disappoints you, our goal as leaders is not to reprimand, blame, or point fingers at the person who made the mistake or didn’t meet expectations. Our goal is to help them get better at their work, and help them grow professionally – never forget that.

After the meeting, I follow up in writing, usually via email, with a summary of the meeting and the plan to address whatever caused the problem. This covers me in case things get off track again, or don’t get fixed. But It also provides another opportunity for the employee to clarify and verify the plan. From there, I check in at the agreed-upon times.

Again, if you’re unsure about something, it’s always good to check with an employment law or policies expert. But hopefully you can use at least some of these ideas to help you lead through those challenges.