Dealing with under-performing employees

When should managers deal with under performing employees?

Managers can be quite tough and put their noses into matters where they shouldn't. Then on the other hand managers can be too soft and do not get involved when they should.

Sometimes misconduct is right in front of managers. Yet they do not always act. The manager may simply hope that the situation improves.

When it does not, the manager typically continues to let the underperforming employee carry on. Only when things come to a head is action taken, and by then it is often too late. Other staff may quit, clients can be lost and productivity falls.

Those employees that are picking up the slack during a period when a Manager is not seen to be dealing with a poor performer can feel alienated. They can become discouraged when they see the underperformer getting away with things for which they are held accountable. It creates resentment. And so when the underperformer is removed, they will often think “about time”.

So what should managers do? Your approach may be to want employees to use their own skills to figure things out and for some staff this will work. However some staff need a little coaching. Here is what a manager can do to get such workers back on track:

  • Explain the situation. Compliment the employee for her effort, but make it clear that their performance is still not good enough but you will help them improve it.
  • Get their feedback. Let the employee give their side of the issue. The employee may have a valid reason for not performing well because of a lack of resources, time and training. Be careful though that they are not just  exaggerating the situation.
  • No more excuses. Many times poor performers get away with things because they are allowed to. Now is the time for the employee to take ownership and agree to improve.
  • Set a plan. You can put poor performers on a performance improvement plan. But such a plan must always include a time frame to work to. This means the employee is on notice starting now and must improve within a certain time frame, such as the next 90 days.

Managers must be as specific as possible when providing guidance to poor performers. It needs to include exactly how the employee should do their work if at the moment they are not doing it right. Being specific can help the employee see what must be done.

Managing employees is not easy. However you must get the right balance between hands-on and hands-off management. It should never be hands-free. You want to encourage empowerment with staff and you do that with trust and allowing them to be relatively self-sufficient. You allow them to take more responsibility and make more of their own decisions. A manager needs to be as engaged in the process of helping the team succeed as is warranted, especially when that means actively guiding employees to improve their performance.


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