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9 Steps to Take with Under-Performing Employees

CoAdvantage- Do you have an employee who’s just not meeting expectations or minimally accepted performance standards. You’ve already invested time, money, and resources into recruiting, onboarding, training, and supporting this worker. What do you do to manage their underperformance? Thankfully, under-performance can often be fixed with the right approach.

1: Find the root cause

The ostensible reason for poor performance may itself only be a symptom; or one issue might be masking another, more serious issue. For example, apparently, incompetence in the role might actually be due to struggles with soft skills like communication and self-management rather than anything role-specific. Alternatively, sometimes the problem isn’t even theirs; they may need feedback, input, or assistance they’re not receiving. No worker can meet their own deadlines if they’re depending on a report from a colleague who’s habitually late.  Consider the Five Whys method as a framework for getting to the bottom of poor performance.

2: Match the solution to the problem

Because there can be different causes at play, the specific method to improve performance can vary. If it’s a matter of insufficient skills or knowledge, training and coaching can make a huge difference. Or they may lack the necessary tools or equipment they need to be more successful, in which case they need to be provided with the materials required for success.

3: Train, coach, mentor

At a high level, underperformance is often a sign that the employee in question needs more overall support. Though that support can take a lot of different forms, it often helps to pair them with higher-performing mentors and coaches who can lead and help employees develop in their roles by example.

4: Search for solutions collaboratively

Most employees want to be good at what they do. Don’t just give your under-performers a chance to get better, make them active participants in that process: incorporate their feedback and suggestions into performance improvement plans. Don’t sugarcoat honest feedback, but you don’t want to destroy morale either: make sure feedback always recognizes the employee’s strengths and any instances of improvement. These employees need to understand how to use their strengths as a foundation to overcome weaknesses.

5: Create an action plan

Never leave an underperformer questioning what to do next. It’s not good enough to just say, “You need to improve” or “I expect to see your delivery increase by X%.” How are they going to get there? Establish a trackable action plan designed to get the employee from their current performance level to a higher performance level.

6: Check the supervisors and managers

Sometimes poor employee performance can be traced back to their supervisors or managers. Many harried managers may simply not have the time to provide adequate feedback to employees until employee performance drops. In other cases, the managers may have been elevated into a position that exceeds their skillsets, and they may not know how to lead effectively. Especially if there is a pattern of performance problems under a specific supervisor or manager, this could actually be a problem at a higher level.

7: Let them go

While you should always give the underperforming employees reasonable opportunities to respond to criticism and try to develop and implement improvement plans, at a certain point the employee just isn’t working. If they continue to fail to meet baseline requirements or to cause problems, termination may be the only option left. Just make sure you’ve adequately documented the problems with the employee’s performance and your efforts to work with them.

8: Improve your pipeline/recruitment process

It’s worth mentioning that avoiding underperformers in the first place is better than having to deal with them after hiring. Assess your recruitment and hiring processes. For example, does your organization look at “job fit” as a consideration? Does it successfully reach high quality workers? Are your salary and benefit offerings genuinely competitive enough to attract high quality workers? Recruitment experts like PEOs can help tremendously with improving the hiring process.

9: Don’t do nothing

Whatever you do, don’t do nothing. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. Address poor performance or risk it getting worse.

CoAdvantage, one of the nation’s largest Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs), helps small to mid-sized companies with HR administration, benefits, payroll, and compliance. To learn more about CoAdvantage’s ability to create a strategic HR function in your business that drives business growth potential, contact us today.