How to Address Underperforming Employees

If you’re in a leadership position long enough, you’re going to come across employees who have stopped performing to their full potential. While it’s easy to assume that they have lost their spark or motivation, there’s often more to the story than that. Perhaps they aren’t receiving constructive feedback, or there’s a personal problem impacting their performance in the workplace. Whatever the case may be, you must approach these situations with an open mind.

So, how do you deal with an underperformer? Here are some tips:

1. Request an Immediate Meeting

Once the dip in an employee’s performance becomes apparent, arrange to speak with them as soon as possible. Highlight the fact that the goal of the meeting is to explore a solution to any roadblocks, rather than to serve as a podium to vent. Talk less and listen more to find out if you can do something to improve their motivation and focus. This collective approach will make the staff feel valued, which is a morale booster in itself. During the meeting, ask questions and actively listen to the answers – they can be revealing.

2. Share Specific Ways to Improve

Generic suggestions like telling employees to be more responsible can be confusing when they are struggling to improve their performance. A better approach is to share specific ways and examples of how they can do better. This might mean setting specific performance goals so that they know what you want them to accomplish and by what date. If you are hearing from customers that they are being rude, tell them the scenarios that the customers described and brainstorm more constructive ways for dealing with patrons in these situations.

3. Offer Personalized Training

Sometimes employees simply lack the skills to do their best, which can make personalized training a valuable option. Many employees today lack soft skills in presentation and communication, which can put a dent in their performance, or perhaps they’re being asked to use a computer program that they haven’t mastered. Assign a trainer to these individuals and track the changes to evaluate if your decision had a positive impact on their performance.

4. Tie Their Performance to The Company’s Success

Lack of acknowledgement is a leading cause of employee underperformance. All staff members want to know how their role is tied to the company’s overall goal. They want to know if their efforts are making a difference. If you can connect what they are doing on an individual/department level to the company’s overall strategies, you may be able to inject meaning into their workday and help them overcome performance blocks. This can be done in a number of ways. For example, you can quantify their gains and show how they impacted profitability for the month. You can also ensure that they hear about customer feedback related to their actions, i.e., “You got five positive customer reviews last month.”)

5. Follow Up on Their Progress

After you define an action plan, you must keep tabs on the underperformer to ensure they’re actually improving, and it’s probably not a good idea to wait until the next quarterly or semi-annual appraisal to check up on this. Agree on a few goals for your personnel to achieve over the next few weeks, and follow up with them regularly to gauge progress. Remember, being regarded as an underperformer isn’t fun for anyone, and many employees will be grateful for specific opportunities to prove that they are better than that.

6. Give them a Mentor

Another way you can address underperforming employees is to conduct a shadow session. This is where certain personnel follow successful colleagues for a few days and learn their strategies. The shadow writes down how their co-workers complete their projects (the processes they follow, the tools they use, etc.) and explores strategies that can be applied to their own performance. Make sure the senior employees are aware of the shadow session to avoid any confusion or embarrassment.

7. Reward Progress

Make it a point to recognize progress and congratulate employees when they reach milestones. Some employees underperform because they’re pressured to perform at a certain standard but never rewarded when they do. As a leader, you should continually offer feedback on performance and reward personnel with financial incentives or other benefits when it’s relevant. Even the simple act of saying, “Well done!” can go a long way.

8. Create Exciting Opportunities

Some positions can become monotonous and dull once the staff member has exhausted their capabilities on all aspects of the role. Performance may then sag as the employees lose interest in their jobs. Fortunately, you can help get their motivation back on track by offering them new opportunities that help them work in a creative capacity and assign them initiatives to increase their interest in the job.

9. See if Employees Realize They’re Underperforming

It may be very clear to you that an employee is not performing up to par, but they may not even realize it. Make sure you communicate your concerns, but before you do, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do they realize the repercussions spanning from underperformance?
  • Do they know exactly what the company expects from them?
  • Were they given the right training for their job?
  • Are they aware of their own performance failures?

Based on the answers, you may discover that you need to educate rather than confront underperforming employees to get things fixed.

10. Know When to Part Ways

At one point or another, you’ll face the inevitable task of asking someone to leave because their performance is hurting the company. Remember that employees are very inter-connected, so underperformace on the part of one employee can have a domino effect. Even high-performing employees could become discouraged and lose productivity if they see their colleagues slacking off and still getting the same level of pay.

If you are confident that you have taken all the steps to help employees improve and they have continued underperforming, then it is your duty to replace them with new, high-performing employees.

If you are frustrated with your hiring track record or simply need help with the sometimes overwhelming job of finding and onboarding the right employees to help your company thrive, consider outsourcing recruiting to our experienced professional placement team.