Answer Questions About Underperforming Co-workers
A new subscriber recently asked me how to
respond to this type of interview question: "What would you do
if a colleague was not pulling his weight?"
Note: since the question is worded with "colleague" and not
"employee" or "subordinate," I'm going to answer this as it
would apply to a NONSUPERVISORY position.
There are generally two management styles that determine how
employers want their people to handle such situations.
Unfortunately, they are completely different.
One style encourages employees to resolve conflicts and fix
problems at the lowest level. So in that case, they'd probably
want you to talk to your colleague one-on-one, to explain what
he or she is doing wrong and how it's bad for the company and
his/her own job security. Then offer to help that person improve
(as long as it did not adversely affect your own duties). If you
can help this person improve, then you are helping the employee
pull his/her weight (meaning he/she may not have to be
replaced), you are helping the company maintain its quality
standards, and also helping the supervisor/manager by saving
them from having to deal with this problem.
The other style encourages employees to notify
supervisor/managers immediately whenever there is a problem. The
theory here is that management needs to know what's going on so
they can make improvements. If there's an employee who is not
performing up to standards, it could mean that employee was
poorly trained, is not being properly motivated, or should never
have been hired. Any of those situations should be addressed by
management, so the best thing would be to bring the colleague's
poor performance to the attention of your supervisor. He/she can
then decide what to do about it.
As you can see, these management styles are opposite in
nature. If possible, it would be good if you could find out
which type of approach is preferred by the company involved. But
I realize that may be difficult. In that case, I believe the
best way to answer that question is something like this:
"My first step would be to determine how ABC Company prefers
for these types of situations to be handled -- whether they want
such problems resolved at the lowest level, or immediately
brought to management's attention. Can you tell me which is
preferred by ABC Company?"
If they do tell you, then you can easily adjust your answer
to fit their particular management style. If they do not tell
you, then you'll have to say something like, "Well, if they
prefer that these situations be handled at the lowest level,
then I would personally try to help the employee to improve his
performance (as long as it did not affect my own duties)." (Then
go into some detail about ways you could help, such as answering
his questions, showing him how to do a particular task, etc.)
"If my attempts to help the employee were unsuccessful and I
felt his performance was going to continue to be below ABC
Company standards, I would bring the matter to the attention of
my supervisor. I know that ABC Company prides itself on quality
service and performance, so I feel it would be my responsibility
to ensure those standards are upheld, not only by myself, but by
those around me.
"If ABC Company prefers that such situations be immediately
brought to the attention of the appropriate supervisor or
manager, then I would, of course, do that instead of spending
time trying to help the employee improve."
Written by Bonnie Lowe,
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