What to do when you have an underperforming employee

  • 0

What to do when you have an underperforming employee

If someone in your organization is consistently failing to meet performance requirements, is failing performance assessments, or is otherwise visibly struggling, you don’t always have to let them go. Instead, often, the solution is to take steps to help your employee boost performance. Doing so can mean offering training, moving the individual into a more suitable role, or defining and eliminating a problem or problems which might be impeding performance. Whatever the case, taking the time to help your employee meet performance expectations can be good for the organization – both in terms of saving on recruitment costs and in terms of building a better employee relationship and fostering loyalty. 

If your employer shows interest in helping you to succeed, you’re that much more likely to work hard and to be passionate for them. And that’s important, even when employees aren’t doing their best right now. 

Assess the Problem

People struggle for many reasons. In fact, problems resulting in performance issues might not and often are not the employee’s own fault. Instead, communication issues, team mismatches, role mismatches, or life crisis often underlying performance problems. Taking time to review problems, performance, and communication with the team, the individual themselves, and with their leadership can help you to understand what’s going on. That will, in turn, give you better understanding into what to do about it. Some common issues include: 

  • Mismatched Team – There are interpersonal conflicts in the team, the team is not matched well to allow everyone to succeed (e.g., personality types and work methods don’t match), or team structure doesn’t work for the person. Here, moving them to another team may resolve the issue. However, if they’re used to working with Waterfall and the team is Agile or another similar methodology issue, resolving the problem may require a shift in mindset from the individual themselves. 
  • Culture – Some people don’t fit into specific cultures. That can be difficult to resolve without real motivation from the employee. 
  • Role Mismatch – If roles have been shifted, the individual was hired for a role they don’t quite fit, or technologies have changed, the individual may no longer be a great fit for their role. If they have too much to do, not enough, are bored, or are unqualified for some of their responsibilities, obviously performance will be low. 
  • Leadership – If an entire team is performing badly, the issue almost always lies with leadership. However, poor communication or even interpersonal conflicts with leadership can also result in individual poor performance. Reviewing how an employee communicates with and to leadership can help you to understand if this contributes to performance issues. 
  • Personal Problems – Often, stress from home and family do bleed into the workplace. If someone is having problems at home, it will come back to work. This can be difficult to resolve, although you can assess the issue and offer compromises like working from home a few days a week or help with babysitting, etc. 

Shifting Roles 

If someone is clearly struggling with their role or team, a move might be the right call. Here, you should use a competency assessment to identify core competencies, determine what the employee wants to do, and then move them laterally into a new role. Paying attention to team and leadership fit during this move is essential. Placing someone in a role that maps to core competencies, with people who complement their communication styles, empowers them to do their best work. 

Offering Training 

If your competency assessments show that your employee doesn’t have the skills to meet their role requirements, offering training can help them to improve performance. For example, if a leader isn’t communicating with teams, emotional intelligence training can help. If someone doesn’t know how to use software, offering training can help. Asking people to take part in free training during work hours can greatly improve their ability to perform their job. However, it does require investment. And, many organizations prefer to roll out digital training across the full company to spread investment out- as that’s normally cheaper and more beneficial than offering the same training to one person. 

Provide Actionable Feedback 

If you’re using 360-feedback or another ongoing feedback program, it’s easy to offer actionable feedback to employees. If not, you’ll have to create this manually. Actionable feedback means recording instances of underperformance, asking what’s needed to resolve the issue, and sharing next steps. Here, SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, relevant, and Time-Based) goals are always a good option. If actionable feedback doesn’t work, you can always move forward to a Performance Improvement Plan or PIP. 

Using a PIP 

A performance improvement plan (link here) allows you to highlight performance issues, create next steps for resolution, and set direct consequences for failing to meet those performance improvements. In most cases, a PIP should follow several instances of actionable feedback and warnings and it should never come as a surprise. Here, you highlight the performance problem, detail desired performance improvements, and then talk to the individual about what they need to reach those goals. If they can’t, don’t or otherwise will not meet the performance goals, you have room to move forward by firing them. 

Eventually, if your employee doesn’t change and doesn’t put effort into improving performance, it’s time to let them go.

Firing an employee can be difficult. However, you might not have options. 

Prevention is better than a cure

In most cases, preventing performance problems is significantly better than resolving them after the fact. Doing so normally means using HR assessments when hiring for new roles or when changing existing roles, mapping the results of those assessments to your competency framework, and ensuring that people meet the requirements of their roles. At the same time, it often means building teams based on personality and communication styles, using communication as part of employee culture, and making good, ongoing feedback part of normal work. 

When things go wrong with employee performance, it usually means someone has slipped through the cracks. Whether that means bad role fit, communication problems, personal problems, or other issues, it should always result in an analysis of what went wrong and how you can prevent it from happening in the future. 


Leave a Reply

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons