In every company, there will be two types of employees you will encounter—those who are performing well and those whose performance is not up to the standards. An underperforming employee can have a profound effect on the rest of the team, as other employees tend to be coerced to pick up the slack—hence, it is important to identify underperforming employees and make an effort to manage them before it’s too late.
An underperformer may need help strengthening their skills, building their confidence and managing their time. They may also need clarification from management on their expectations and team goals. Addressing these issues can be challenging, but emotional and mental health are vital to productivity, engagement and retention. While no one expects superiors to become therapists, here are 5 ways you can work with an underperforming employee to create change and improve their productivity.
1. Find the root cause
If you are a superior, never assume you know why an employee is performing poorly and struggling. Take time to understand any underlying issues or concerns from the employee’s perspective. Maybe your team member’s workload is overwhelming—or just the opposite and they don’t feel challenged. If your employee is a bad fit for the job and lacks the necessary skills, that is on you. These causes for underperformance can be fixed with training. There also might be a misunderstanding of your expectations—hence, you need to look at how you and the employee are jointly responsible. First, build trust, then be direct and ask if there is anything bothering them. There might be a possibility that both sides need to make changes to fix this.
2. Be objective and have a conversation
It’s important to make sure that you are not biased when approaching the matter. If the employee’s mistakes are a frustration to you, tap on other managers to contribute to a review of the person’s work. Try to find facts that will prove there is either a communication problem or a need for proper training. Once you have collected unbiased information, it is time to have a conversation with the employee. Tell the employee what you have observed and how their actions are affecting the team and company. Stress that you are available to help. Have a brainstorm session and give them a few days to think about it and come up with a plan.
3. Lay out an improvement plan
Employees who consistently underperform need help to determine how to do their job better. A detailed improvement plan, with clear and manageable goals, might be the best way to get them on the path toward greater productivity. With the employee's input, lay out a plan with clearly defined, small steps. As these are achieved, it is likely they will feel more engaged and ready to tackle any bigger work responsibilities remaining. Most importantly, emphasise the positive in these interactions so the employee feels inspired, rather than discouraged or demotivated.
4. Schedule regular meetings
Set up weekly meetings to help monitor the progress of the employee. Use this time to listen to his or her reflections and discuss what they still find challenging and where she or he may feel more comfortable. For some employees, providing feedback on their performance may open opportunities to improve. Another option is to undertake personalised training and then track the changes to monitor if the performance has improved.
5. Reward improvement along the way
If you notice a significant positive change in the employee's productivity, acknowledge and reward it with a gift, such as buying them lunch or a note of praise for their excellent work. Small but meaningful gestures can encourage the employee to continue making improvements. Once the employee begins to show improvements in their performance, entrust them to be accountable for their work. You can also continue to regularly monitor their results. The goal is to eventually ease up on your monitoring when you see a strong pattern of progress.
And finally, if you have exhausted every effort to try to bring back his or her performance on track, it may be time to let them go. This is never ideal and should always be treated as a last resort, but holding onto underachieving employees can result in a ripple effect of negativity and poor quality of work on the team and eventually the business.