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15 Effective Ways to Deal with an Underperforming Employee

If some of your team aren’t performing at their best, it can bring down morale and affect the overall goals of your business. It’s important, and fair, for both yourself and the underperforming employee, to find a solution to the issue. Every manager, at some point in their career with have to learn to deal with an underperforming employee. There are a number of good ways, and equally as many unhelpful ways to deal with this issue. Let’s go through 15 proven methods to effectively deal with an underperforming employee.

1. Question yourself Ideally, all employees should understand what is expected of them, and indeed if you feel this isn’t clear, then they may not even realise they are underperforming. Ask yourself these questions before approaching the person.

  • Have all employees been told explicitly what you expect from them?

  • Do they understand what the repercussions are from underperformance?

  • Are they given regular and clear training, such as face to face, training materials or otherwise?

  • Are you confident that they understand they are underperforming?

If you feel that they are not even aware of their own performance failures, perhaps education rather than confrontation, is what is actually needed.

2. Avoid emotional confrontation An emotional argument helps nobody. Neither you nor the underperforming employee will benefit from loaded accusatory questioning, or threatening behaviour. Ensure that you keep calm as you collect your thoughts and approach the topic. 3. Be prepared Ensure that you gather as much evidence and materials prior to speaking with the employee, so you have as many facts as you can at hand. Vague commentary like “you aren’t doing a good job” is not useful; be specific as possible in measuring and coaching performance.

4. Be specific Instead of just speaking in broad terms, be as specific about the performance issue as you can; be prepared with notes or documentation showing exactly where the performance problem lies. If the issue is targets related, have your figures ready. If the employee is not complying with company policy, have the policy on hand. The discussion should leave absolutely no room for misinterpretation. You should be sending a clear message and explaining your expectations in a way that is easily understood.

5. Deal with underperformance as soon as possible If you don’t deal with an underperforming employee urgently, then you are sending a message that this performance or behaviour is acceptable, and it sets a bad precedent for both that individual, as well as the rest of your team. You should try to speak to the employee as soon as practical once the performance issue has come to your attention. Highlight the fact that the aim of the meeting is to find a solution to any problems, rather than to serve as an opportunity to vent. Listen 80 percent and talk 20 percent. This collective approach will help employees feel valued and part of the company’s development — a morale booster in itself. Confirm that your employee understands. Don’t proceed until you and the employee are both perfectly clear. 6. Understand external factors If the performance issue has suddenly appeared, there is a chance that it could be the result of external factors, such as the underperforming employee’s personal life. It could be a temporary situation, such as relationship bumps, or moving house, a new child, family illness or it may be a bigger issue, with mental wellbeing or general health being a factor. Consider how long this team member has been working with your organisation; you may discover they have been in the same role for years without any recognition, or that they are a victim to isolated bullying or other workplace disagreements.

7. Give appropriate training You should ensure that you are giving all team members appropriate training, which includes your expectations of performance, in a clear and concise way. Make sure to document this, and don’t leave it to verbal discussions only. This ongoing training should be giving your employees new knowledge and skills that will be both beneficial to you and their long-term career. Ask employees directly if your training can be improved. Are there areas they would like to learn more about? Do they feel they have the appropriate knowledge and skills for the job? What are the barriers stopping them from completing the work to a satisfactory level?

8. Understand what motivates your employees

It’s very hard to direct someone without understanding what makes them motivated as an individual. You should regularly take time to get to know your employees better. Ask questions of them, such as;

  • What are your long-term goals and aspirations?

  • Where would they like to see their career headed in the next 12 months?

  • What can you do to support employees better?

With these responses, you should now have intimate knowledge of each employee’s motivations, and it is possible to ensure they are assigned to the right roles in your team. 9. Show where they fit in the company mission A good way to deal with an underperforming employee, is to ensure they understand where they fit in ‘the big picture’. Ask this employee if they know how their work fits in with that of their team, and how it affects the business as a whole. Explain clearly to them what the company aims to achieve, and how they fit in the company mission. When giving your employees a more holistic understanding of the company, it will, in turn, provide a higher employee engagement. 10. Ask them about management A great technique is to ask the underperforming employee how you, as a manager, can help them perform better. This approach may allow them to open up about what they think they need while framing it around general terms. You can ask these employees directly, or use a tool such as our own 6Q, to send a pulse survey regularly, asking for employee feedback. 11. Create their performance goals together It’s very important when dealing with an underperforming employee, that you include them in creating individual performance targets. Ask employees how they would like to improve, what they would like to achieve and any new skills they wish to learn. Collaborate with the employee to set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-framed) performance goals for improvement. Then, whilst keeping the discussion at performance, not individual criticism, ask questions together, such as;

  • What can we do, together, to prevent these performance issues in the future?

  • What are we doing to ensure these issues improve?

  • What can other members of the team do to contribute?

This encourages better personal ‘buy in’ to the performance goals, than you simply dictating what you expect.

12. Arrange a follow up process Great managers always follow up with employees after a discussion on performance. Once these performance goals have been agreed, ensure to regularly monitor progress. If someone has been asked to complete a task by a certain date, make sure that he or she have accomplished it. Most people will appreciate this structure at work and respect your due diligence. Showing an interest in the work of your employees can significantly boost a company’s culture and morale.

13. Reward improvement Ensure that you make a point of recognising improvement and congratulating employees when rewarding progress. A sure fire method to alienate your employees is to ask for improvements, and never show appreciation for the work done to date. Continue to provide feedback on performance and reward employees when it’s relevant with financial incentives or more responsibility. Often a simple mention of “thank you” or “well done” goes a long way.

14. Act on continued underperformance If underperformance continues, you should address this behaviour as soon as you can. This ensures your underperforming employee knows you are serious, and won’t tolerate continuing issues. Dealing with an underperforming employee is important to the rest of the team as well; those hardworking members will quickly become disengaged if they see colleagues slacking off without any repercussions.

15. Be ready to let them go At one stage or another, just about every manager has the unenviable task of letting someone go. This is never ideal and should always be treated as a last resort. It is after all, better for the team and the business; holding onto an underachieving employees can result in a ripple effect of negativity, low morale and poor quality of work.

In Summary No manager wants to have to deal with performance problems, however it is important as a leader that you learn to deal with an underperforming employee in effective ways, that are beneficial to you and the person. I trust that these 15 methods above help you to be better equipped to deal with performance issues in a professional and positive way.



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