Effective ways of dealing with underperforming employees

Emmanuel Jinda

Over the years companies have restructured, downsized and delayered which has resulted in employees feeling distanced, detached, disillusioned and even cynical. Too often layoffs have been the aftermath of grand corporate visions that promised personal opportunities.

Resultantly, organisations have touted the partnerships they have with their employees inevitably driving employees to non-commitment to their jobs because they are not convinced that the future holds new opportunities for them.

Disengaged, unfocussed and underperforming employees can sap the life of any business. Conversely, when managed correctly, employees can become an organisation’s greatest asset. Astute business is not the sole responsibility of an individual, but rather something that both parties need to work on together. Businesses need to note that an employee behaviour is a cause for concern, remembering that at one point this individual was hired on his or her skills, application and attitude. Instead of writing people off, business leaders need to critically consider their approach to people management and figure out how to help floundering employees to get re-engaged once more.

Cognisant also that underperformance by other team members can bring down morale and affect the overall goals of a business. It is important and fair for both the supervisor and the underperforming employee to find a solution to the issue.

First and foremost, it is prudent to ask yourself as the manager whether you have explicitly told the employee what is expected of them. At times the employee is not even aware that they are underperforming, then in such a situation go for education rather than confrontation. An emotional confrontation helps nobody as neither you nor the underperforming will benefit from loaded accusations and questions.

Before delving into the issues, be prepared and gather as much evidence as possible so that you have facts. Avoid vague comments like, “you are not doing a good job”, rather be specific and avoid speaking in broad terms. Quantifying the goals to be achieved will help make them clearer and easier to evaluate. Remember what gets measured gets done!
A great technique in managing underperforming employees is to ask them how you as a manager can help them perform better. Such an approach may allow them to open up about what they need while framing it around general terms. In underperformance discussions it is advisable that a manager listens 80% and talks 20% and a collective approach helps an employee feel valued.

Work on their performance goals, doing so together. It is very tactful when dealing with underperforming employees to include them in creating individual performance targets. Ask them how they would like to improve and what they would like to achieve and any new skills needed to assist them. Create a collaborative environment with them and set SMART performance goals. Ask leading questions such as what should we do together to overcome these performance issues. By so doing you will be encouraging better buy in to the performance goals than you simply dictating what you expect. In the development plan, incorporate follow up processes. A great manager always follows up with employees after a discussion on performance. Once these performance goals have been agreed, ensure to regularly monitor progress. Most people will appreciate this structure at work and respect your due diligence. If you show an interest in the work of your employees it can significantly boost a company’s culture and morale.

In the event of improvement, reward them. A sure-fire method to alienate your employees is to ask for improvements and never show appreciation for the work done to date.
Continue to provide feedback on performance and reward them when it is relevant with financial incentives or more responsibilities. Often a simple mention of “thank you’ or well done” goes a long a way. If there are still evident traits of underperformance, you need to address this behaviour as soon as possible. This will show the underperforming employee that you are serious and will not tolerate continual underperformance.

Organisations should note that it is good to deal with underperforming employees as the signal is send to the rest of the team.

At one stage or another, just every manager has the inevitable task of letting someone go. This is never ideal and should always be treated as a last resort.

In conclusion, some of the preceding underperformance problems emanate from recruitment processes. It is worthy looking beyond qualifications and technical skills. Cultural fit has become a key consideration too. Employees are more engaged in organisations that give some autonomy in decision making, personal development and a sense of purpose in the fulfilment of the organisation’s goals.

Jinda is the managing consultant of PROSERVE Consulting Group, a leading supplier of professional HR and management services — +263 773 004 143 or 263 242 772778 or visit www.proservehr.com