How to Engage the Disengaged

Posted in : HR Updates on 14 May 2018
Olga Pollock
firmus energy
Issues covered:

I wrote an article in October 2016 called 'Performance Improvement Plans: Do they work?' In it I examined whether so-called PIPs actually result in improved performance and determined that very often they have the opposite effect with the process either ending in the employee departing from the organisation during the process or at the end. Not the ideal outcome considering the genuine purpose of a PIP should be to improve performance.

Often when an employee is not performing managers become frustrated, sometimes even team members who end up picking up the slack and next thing HR are brought in to 'sort things out'. The problem with this approach is that it fails to establish the reasons for underperformance and doesn't really offer much opportunity for improvement for the struggling employee. We have to remember that if we trust our hiring process in the first place, then that person hasn't suddenly become a 'problem' or developed a 'bad attitude'. Something has happened during the course of employment to turn an engaged employee into one who is either not engaged, or worse still, disengaged.

Problems can begin when managers adopt a laisse faire style of management. If we don't talk to our staff, how can we ever know if they're struggling or if they've become disillusioned when no one ever bothers to ask them how things are or gives them feedback or opportunities? The employee who appears to be underperforming becomes a problem for the manager. The manager in turn doesn't engage with the employee and doesn't delegate challenging projects for fear it won't get done properly. This leads to a vicious cycle of continuing lack of engagement by the employee and continuing frustration of the manager.

Once we sit down to have the conversations about how things aren't going well, even with the best of intentions, we are already starting off on the wrong footing. It is worth examining the cost of getting this wrong. When we put a PIP in place, or we move towards an exit strategy, then we need to think about the cost of recruiting someone new to replace that person. We need to think of this in terms of the cost to advertise, the time taken to carry out the selection process, the cost of the hiring process e.g. recruitment agency fees and the time taken during the on-boarding process to bring the new recruit up to speed. Remember during which they will be unproductive yet being paid a full salary.

Surely there is a better way of doing things and this is where I believe coaching holds the answer. Coaching is about empowering employees to come up with solutions to problems themselves. It is about regular, ongoing communication between managers and their staff; looking at problems and working through steps to solve them. The advantage of coaching is that while it takes commitment from the manager in terms of time, it is not the manager who holds the answer, but the employee. There are models such as OSKAR and GROW that provide a solid framework for coaching by setting goals and working through a step-by-step process of mapping out how to achieve them. This is fine as long as you know what the goals are in the first place however there is also a coaching model called CHAMP which starts off looking at the problems themselves and then working through a process to agree goals, actions and timescales.

The CHAMP model begins by looking at the current situation. This is about talking to the employee and asking them how things are going right now; what's going well; what not going well. It's at this stage that the manager can start to discuss specific performance issues for example, by referring to performance metrics such as call resolutions for call centre staff or levels of product or technical leadership of software developers. Granted, not all jobs can be measured quantitatively but the more tangible evidence you can bring to the table, the better. It is essential to ask the employee for their opinions on how they think they are performing. This will resonate much more powerfully than simply being told by the manager.

After this the manager can begin to help the employee to highlight the key areas that they need to address. Sometimes there may be a lot of issues identified so it is important to focus on those that are most critical rather than listing everything and the employee becoming quickly overwhelmed.

Next the manager should ask the employee to identify the actions needed to actually begin to address each key area in turn and whether or not these are within the person's control. It may be that the employee has identified that they need to improve their call resolution and in order to do so they need to undertake more training on the product or service that they have responsibility for supporting. However, if there is a problem with the product or service itself that is out of the employee's control, then they will never resolve calls in line with what they are expected to. It is through these conversations that managers may begin to get insight into wider problems outside the control of the individual or team that need to be addressed at a higher level and so it is easy to see how regular communication with staff can have a positive impact on individuals and the business as a whole.

Once realistic actions are agreed, the employee and manager can begin to map out how these will happen and then put a plan in place with completion dates. A review date should be agreed, ideally in a month's time or sooner, particularly where performance problems have been highlighted.

The great thing about a problem-solving coaching model like CHAMP is that it also ticks the box for setting SMART objectives which otherwise can be difficult to agree as very often it feels like they are being plucked out of thin air.

Of course managers adopting this coaching model will need training and coaching themselves on its practice. If you are interested in finding out more about CHAMP and how it works, I would highly recommend talking to Founding Director of Vibrant Talent, Craig Thompson. You could save you, your employee and your organisation a lot of headache if you just start to give people a chance of improving and empowering them to take control of their own performance. In the end we may well turn the disengaged into the engaged employee who is actively contributing to the success of the organisation.

This article is correct at 14/05/2018

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Olga Pollock
firmus energy

The main content of this article was provided by Olga Pollock. Contact telephone number is +44 (0)79 7389 3448 or email

View all articles by Olga Pollock