How to Help Underperforming Employees

(from the 24 Hour HR Support Center)

There are a lot of reasons why an employee or a team may be underperforming, and sometimes it takes a little digging to get at the root of the problem. Under-performance could be due to a skill gap, unclear expectations, or a lack of incentive to perform. It could be due to obstacles in your organization that prevent people from completing their assignments or getting their work done on time. There could be a combination of factors that would need to be addressed before employees could routinely do their best work.Consequently, while your performance management process should have some consistency to avoid any discrimination, it also needs to be complex enough to account for a multitude of underlying issues. A good performance management strategy effectively corrects subpar performance because it enables employers to diagnose the cause of that performance and prescribe remedies that address it.

Examples of Performance Improvement

Let’s look at some common examples of performances that aren’t as good as they could be or should be. For each of these examples, we’ll identify the basic performance issue, highlight a few possible reasons why the issue exists, and note how you would proceed to address the performance in the situation.

New Employee Who Isn’t Meeting Expectations

Amy has been on the job for three weeks, but she keeps missing deadlines and leaving tasks unfinished. These are most definitely performance issues to address right away, but how you should address them depends on why she’s not getting her job done. Here are two possibilities:

  • Lack of Ability: She doesn’t have the skills you thought she did. If that’s the case—whether she misrepresented those skills during the hiring process, or the interview process didn’t reveal the skill gap—you’re within your rights to terminate her employment. (As an aside, if termination is the preferred option, consider how to adjust your hiring process to avoid the same situation for the next new hire.) If there was an honest misunderstanding about what she could do, but you’re still getting some good from her, then training along with a performance improvement plan might be the better alternative.
  • Lack of Training: It’s possible that Amy didn’t receive the training she was supposed to get in the first few weeks. She may not have been shown how to do the job or given adequate time to learn. Alternatively, your expectations may not have been clearly communicated. In both these cases, in addition to training or communicating expectations to Amy, it would be prudent to review your orientation and onboarding practices to ensure that all new employees receive the resources they need to succeed in their roles.

Good Performer in a Slump

Amadi used to be one of your star performers—the kind of employee you could rely on to surpass his goals and encourage dedication and hard work from his colleagues. Over the past six months, however, Amadi’s performance has gone downhill. He’s been showing up late, missing meetings, requesting more days off, and failing to complete all his tasks on time. The quality of his work has suffered as well, and other employees have taken notice.

What’s going on? The job duties haven’t changed at all, and Amadi clearly has the skills and abilities to do the work well. So, either something is preventing him from performing as he once did or he’s choosing to perform poorly. Either way, you need to address his performance. How he responds to your feedback should affect how you proceed.

  • It’s Personal: It could be that some personal issue is affecting Amadi’s ability to perform, and if so, he may have certain rights under state and federal law. An illness in the family, for instance, could entitle him to protected leave, depending on the circumstances. A disability might entitle him to a reasonable accommodation. (You can learn more about protected leave and accommodations by searching these terms on the HR Support Center). Keep these rights in mind when you’re working with him to improve his performance.
  • He’s Bored: Another possibility is that Amadi is bored. He’s been doing the same thing for a few years now, and his heart just isn’t in it anymore. If there are no career development opportunities at your organization that would be suitable for him and encourage him to excel, then it may be time for him to work elsewhere, and he’d likely be happier for it. In any case, you can make it clear to Amadi that his performance has not been satisfactory and that he needs to improve it if he wants to stay employed.

Star Performer Who Could Do Even Better

Beth is one of your best employees, and you’ve never had cause to complain about her performance. Nonetheless, you can’t shake the feeling that Beth could do better than what she’s doing. She’s great relative to most of your team, but she seems to be underperforming relative to what you believe to be her potential.

Clearly Beth doesn’t need a performance improvement plan, but, nonetheless, working with her on her performance could be a benefit to you both. Beth is one of your stars, maybe the best in your organization, but what if she were the best in your industry?

  • Coach to Greater Success: A lot of star performers—whether they’re professional athletes, actors, or executives—have a personal coach who pushes them to excel, propels them to ever-loftier goals, and holds them accountable. Having someone take on this role (it could be you, a professional coach, or an expert in the field who is willing to act as a mentor) would give you an even greater competitive advantage and set Beth up for greater success in her career.
  • Reward Performance: Remember to reward Beth for her improved performance! If Beth were to feel as though you’re reaping all the rewards for her now even more amazing work, she might be inclined to take her developed talents elsewhere.

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About KMA

Since 2007, KMA has provided businesses in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts with outsourced Human Resources support—on-site or remotely—during times of growth, transition, and conflict. Our team of expert consultants addresses compliance issues, solves employee relations challenges, and helps recruit, hire, and retain talent in tight labor markets. We are HR.™

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