Managing Underperformers

Underperformers can be some of the most frustrating employees. At some point in the employment relationship, you saw potential in the underperformer. That’s probably a big reason why you hired them. But for some reason they are no longer meeting your expectations. You have already invested a lot in this employee, so firing is not always the best solution. Turning to performance management can sometimes help turn a problem employee around. Here are some tips for managing your underperformers into being good employees.

Meet with the Employee

As soon as you notice a problem, address it. One of the worst ways to manage an underperformer is to ignore their performance issues. After a while, the performance issues become habit, and it is harder to justify suddenly firing an employee for an issue they have gotten away with for years without consequence.

Plan to meet with the employee in a private place that will be free of interruption. Gather your thoughts before the meeting, and be prepared to provide specific examples of the issues. For example, do not just say, “You are bad with customers.” Instead, tell the employee about a specific time their customer service skills were lacking, such as, “Earlier today a customer asked for help finding an item, and you told her you were too busy to help her find it.”

Set Clear Goals

After you explain the specific issues, discuss your expectations for improvement and how quickly you expect to see improvement. Document your conversation with the employee as well as the expectations for improvement and goals. In the case of the employee with bad customer service skills, the expectation would be that they make assisting customers top priority, and they would need to show improvement as soon as they are back on the floor interacting with customers. Most performance problems should have the expectation that change happens as soon as the employee leaves your office.

The exception to an immediate change in behavior would be an issue that requires some form of training in order for improvement to happen. For example, if you have an employee who is struggling with a computer system, the expectation may be that they attend a class for additional training. Your goals for the employee should specify the timeframe for completing the class.

Be Aware of Possible Causes of Performance Problems

Sometimes an issue may go beyond setting goals and communicating expectations. One time I got a call from a frustrated retail manager who had an employee who was regularly late to work despite repeated counseling and warnings. When I met with the employee and manager, the employee admitted that she was recently diagnosed with ADD, which was contributing to her inability to get to work on time. The employee stating that she had a disability was enough to trigger the interactive process.

Through the interactive process, we were able to determine that giving the employee a flexible start time would help her with the tardiness issue. If you ever find yourself in this situation, the Job Accommodation Network is an excellent resource on how to accommodate a variety of disabilities in the workplace.

Follow Up

Do not forget to follow up with the employee after the meeting to see if they are improving. This may mean observing an employee, closely monitoring an employee’s attendance and meeting with the employee to discuss how they are doing. If the problems persist, then you may want to proceed with a written warning; however, if an employee is doing well, give them positive feedback to reinforce the good behavior. Document your follow up.

About the Author

Stephanie Hammerwold, PHR, is the owner of Hammerwold & Pershing Consulting and specializes in small business HR support. Stephanie is a regular contributor at Blogging4Jobs and The HR Gazette, and she gives presentations on a variety of job search and workplace topics. She specializes in training, employee relations, women’s issues and writing employment policy. Connect with Stephanie on Twitter.

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