8 strategies for handling underperforming employees
October 12, 2017
It’s great when employees are delivering but can be stressful when they are not. Handling an underperforming employee can be a time-consuming, emotionally draining and complex aspect of a manager’s tasks. In any organization or department, you don’t always get the best talent; there are usually one or two underperforming employees. Whether they’re failing to hit target or they’ve simply lost interest in the job, any drop in employee performance levels will ultimately affect your business. Managers must understand that poor performance that is not addressed quickly is in reality seen by the employee as being condoned. When poor performance goes unaddressed for a long period of time, it can become a major problem and manifest itself into a situation that is out of control.
Before just firing an underperforming employee, it’s important to be able to demonstrate to others and yourself that you have explored all other avenues in order to boost performance. Here are some simple and effective strategies on how to deal with poor employee performance.
1. Identify the cause for underperformance
Find the root of the problem. Personal or workplace issues are the usual factors affecting productivity. It is important to document performance problems you observe and communicate your concerns with the underperforming employee early on. Try to identify the reasons behind their poor performance. In what areas is the employee falling short of expectations? How long has the employee been underperforming? Research the employee’s work history and performance reviews to determine if the problem is a new behavior or if the employee has underperformed throughout his employment. Also, check if there’s a discrepancy between the employee’s tasks and your expected standards. Coaching methods are effective when the underperformer isn’t put in a defensive position. Allow the employees room to communicate their struggle or the challenges affecting their performance. Oftentimes, work-related stress can be avoided by offering to help and exploring options with the employee.
2. Clearly define consequences of underperformance
Define consequences of continued underperformance and the impact on others and the business. Explain to the employee that chronic poor performance might ultimately affect his/her job security, promotional opportunities, recognition, credibility, financial rewards, etc. Try the ITTT (If This Then That) conversation during coaching sessions. Encourage but establish the line of accountability–indicating how he/she is ultimately the driver of their success or failure.
3. Co-develop and discuss solutions and approaches
It is important to understand the root cause and to deal with issues as early as possible to effectively address any underperformance issue. Be specific, and make sure it is measurable and achievable by the employee. Ask the employee himself or herself for suggestions. If the underperforming staff commits to a specific objective and lays out his or her own tactical solutions to improve performance in the workplace, then you know they have a path they want to follow.
4. Offer training and skills development programs
Keep your employee’s skills fresh and up-to-date by providing appropriate training such as online, in-house or external courses. You might want to pair him/her to an experienced mentor to work with or to provide procedures manual to study and follow.
5. Create a performance improvement plan (PIP)
Make a plan for improvement that both you and the employee feel comfortable with and set realistic goals and deadlines for achieving it. You must both agree on the standards of success and failure and commit to closely monitor improvements or the absence of it.
6. Schedule a review meeting
Set out key dates that you will hold update meetings with the employee when progress milestones and development can be reviewed. This will also give the employee reasonable opportunity to demonstrate that their performance has improved.
7. Keep records
It is important to always keep a written record of all meetings and discussions that took place. This will not only demonstrate to the employee that you are conducting the process in a transparent and professional manner and are genuinely trying to help, it can also be a vital defense tool should a dispute arise later.
Should the employee’s underperformance continue, it’s crucial that the course of action taken is both professional and fair. A typical disciplinary sequence includes:
i. Verbal warning
ii. Written warning
iii. Final written warning
Dismissal should only be used as a last resort when all other options have been exhausted.
Failure to address problems and set the correct course for underperforming employees can negatively impact morale, productivity, sales, revenue and the overall company’s output. Allowing poor performance to continue unchecked may result in your high achievers leaving. Better to address the issue right away rather than allowing it to become a bigger problem.
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