How to Handle An Underperforming Employee

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under-performing-employeeDealing with under-performers in the workplace can be a frustrating and sensitive matter for managers and for other employees. Under-performers are often very capable of turning things around, but understanding the problem from all angles is key in determining the best possible route for success. Here are a few important tactics and approaches to keep in mind when confronting and problem solving with an underperformer.

Understand where you can improve first

When an employee is identified as “underperforming” or is not meeting required metrics, take action swiftly but always take time to understand the situation from all angles. Prior to discussing the matter with the employee, approach the problem by assessing which factors are employee-driven and which are employer-driven. In nearly all performance-related situations, the problem does not begin and end with the employee. Chances are, they have some level of unawareness for their expectations, or perhaps they aren’t motivated, or they are facing a challenge that could be mitigated by a manager or mentor. Be sure to exhaust all potential factors that could be resolved with the help of managers or company training adjustments.

Open up a clear dialogue early on

Partly because it’s the right thing to do…partly for legal reasons! Underperformance issues should be dealt with in an “exposed” manner. That is, always be clear with the employee right away (after assessing factors) when there is an issue. If an employer waits too long to make the problem known, there are less opportunities to track the problem and the efforts to solve it. This is more important than many employers realize, because if the underperforming employee ends up being fired, it’s a good practice to have documentation of the reasons why and the actions taken to avoid the firing in general. For the employee’s sake, it’s also helpful to have clear expectations, a roadmap for success, and a way to track their progress in the open — through direct communication and a tangible record. An employee always needs to be clued in to your perception of their work, otherwise they won’t be able to change.

Establish a plan with mutual responsibilities

Rather than establishing a “disciplinary” tone, ensure that the employee feels well-supported and sees this as an opportunity for growth. Chances are, there is room for improvement on your part as well as the employee’s — keep this in mind as you communicate and set a plan. Set up regular check-ins with the employee and discuss what is being done on both sides to work towards success. Set reasonable goals that serve to empower the employee and bring them closer to the habits that will ensure long-term skills and practices.

Incentivize growth and performance

If the employee responds positively to the plan and begins to meet metrics, it’s critical to encourage their progress and reward accordingly. Pointing out flaws or areas for improvement is important, but it’s equally important to empower your team and boost morale when they’re excelling. Take time to understand your employee’s personal (when applicable) and professional goals. Where do they see their career in 1 year or 5 years? How can you, as a manager, and the company as a whole, help them get there? Often, underperforming employees have lost sight of the bigger picture and the steps needed to get them there. If the company is positioned to help them along the way, it’s much easier to see how important their contributions are for himself and for the company.

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Author: Claire Topalian

Claire Topalian is a writer, non-profit Communications professional, and advocate for diversity in business. She currently leads Communications and the Startup Women initiative at UP Global, an international non-profit that builds startup communities through educational programs and events. You can follow her on Twitter @clairetopalian.