Awesome Ways to Deal with Underperforming Employees

Dealing with underperforming employees can be quite difficult, and can lead to some awkward conversations. How do you manage an underperforming employee? Below are some awesome approaches you can take to deal with underperforming employees.

It’s a moment every manager dreads. You have an employee who is not doing well at their job. You know that losing this job will cause your employee economic hardship and even leave their personal life in shambles. You may even like them as a person, outside your work life. But in fairness to the rest of your team and your company, you can’t keep them on unless things change significantly.

Is there anything you can do to give this low performer the best chance of improving before you have to let them go? Here are some unusual ways to deal with underperforming employees:

Honesty and empathy

Whereas it may be tempting to rain terror down on them one of the best ways to deal with underperforming employees is to be absolutely honest about what could be improved as early as is possible, but be empathetic all through your communication. Keep in mind that as a leader you have a responsibility to create an environment of learning and growth not one of fear.

While telling the truth can be an opportunity to help people understand and take ownership of their performance, if not delivered well it will not only work but can also actually turn out counter-productive. Brutal honesty on its own can make people overly defensive. Avoiding the truth, on the other hand, can do just as much damage as it holds people back from reaching their potential.

Write the conversation down

Have a visual conversation. Use a note pad and a marker and make sure to listen attentively enough to visually capture what you are talking about. You and the underperformer just talking are a ‘two point’ communication, you should ensure the conversation and communication is ‘three point’.

Introduce a third item such as a flip chart, note pad or white board to illustrate things and make the conversation flow easier. It helps make the content and conversation clear, focused on objective information and helps avoid the tension or shame that can occur in conversations like this.

Give faster feedback

One of the most important ways to deal with underperforming employees is to reduce the feedback gap once an employee has been identified as an underperformer. They need more immediate and frequent feedback to adjust their course in order to change effectively. This means weekly and even daily one-on-ones. They don’t need to be long but it’s important they are regular and frequent.

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Tackle underperformance right at recruitment

Is there a problem with the employee’s engagement within the business, or misaligned skills and abilities? Engagement underpins performance, and engagement is always a result of hiring and induction. If an employee feels they are not a clear fit for the role they are assigned in the organisation, or they were not properly inducted into the structure and processes within the role, almost instant disengagement can occur leading to clear performance issues.

If poor performance is a perceived problem, and it can be traced back to the hiring or onboarding process– and yes it is the most common culprit – you will need to review these processes and requalify the employee’s skills and behavioural fit. From there, structure the role to properly accommodate the newly qualified traits, whilst also ensuring the culture of the team is properly engaged to allow the employee to regain confidence and fir right in.

Active listening

This is one of the simplest ways to deal with underperforming employees. Listen attentively to the issues they face, ask questions and then work with them to provide the support and knowledge to help them succeed. Also ask yourself what more you can do to support them achieve their goals.

When an employee knows that you pay attention to what they have to say, this can inspire them to do better on the job. Furthermore, active listening gives you a good gut feeling of what you need to do: whether the employee in question can really improve or if they are just making empty promises.

Assign them a ‘silent’ mentor

Find a better performing employee on the same team as the underperforming one who is capable of playing the role of a ‘silent’ mentor for them. This is someone who can quietly guide and help the underperformer in their job without making it too obvious that they are lending a hand.

A ‘silent’ mentor helps an underperforming employee improve without the pressure of feeling like they have to impress and/or live up to their mentor. This can be one of the more experienced employees who can handle helping others without dropping the ball on their own work.

Give them more work

This may be counterintuitive but giving them more work can actually be a very effective way to deal with underperforming employees. Sometimes people underperform because they feel underutilised and thus assigning them more tasks drives them to  do better despite the increase in workload.

Giving underperforming employees more responsibility shows you have not lost your trust in them despite their not so flattering results; that you still believe in their ability to deliver. It also reminds them they can’t afford to wallow in their underperformance for there is still work to be done.

Switch up their working space

Sometimes all we need is new scenery. It can be hard to get out of a rut if you are trying to do so within the same exact physical environment you got into that rut in the first place. Changing their physical surrounding can give the employee a mental fresh page to turn their performance around.

This can be done by:

  • a permanent or temporary shift to a new office;
  • letting them work from home for a while, and;
  • redesigning/renovating their current office space.

Remind them of their past great performances

It is dangerous to live in the past but sometimes we need to revisit it to get inspiration for the future. Taking them down memory lane to back when their results were still great is a simple way to deal with underperforming employees. Remind them of what they have managed to achieve before, how they felt when they achieved it and how it impacted the organisation as a whole.

Tie their job back to their personal goals

This goes along with figuring out what motivates your employee. If he or she is working toward a specific goal in their personal life, help them see how improving performance can act as a stepping stone. Also, tie the work directly to organisation’s goals so that the employee is able to see how the work has an impact on the broader mission that everyone around them is trying to achieve.

In Summary

Setting aside all of these techniques for managing poor performance, if there’s one thing you should remember about how to manage poor performing employees, it’s that it should not be the big deal that we so often make of it.

If you address inappropriate behaviour when it first appears, you will start viewing it not as a burden but as an opportunity to coach, develop and grow.

Gerald Ainomugisha

Gerald Ainomugisha

Gerald is a freelance writer with a pen that is keen for entrepreneurship, business and technology. When he isn't writing insightful articles on employee engagement and corporate culture, Gerald can be found writing for a number of media outlets.