If you are managing a team, sooner or later, you will be faced with an underperforming employee.
Addressing poor performance with an employee is simultaneously one of the most delicate and impactful conversations you're likely to have as a manager.
Find out why the employee is underperforming
Performance is often defined as ability times motivation.
Performance = Ability x Motivation
Where an ability is the person's aptitude, training and resources supplied by the company, and motivation derives from person's desire and commitment.
Lack of Ability
Can include not having the knowledge or skills required to excel in the role, or lack of the necessary resources, which enable delivering up to expectations.
Lack of Motivation
Can stem from not getting enough of recognition at work, burnout after a particularly stressful period, to feeling that there are no consequences of a job poorly done.
While the majority of performance fall into these buckets, there could also be another cause:
Complications with personal or family health, relationship issues, or financial difficulties are some examples of factors that can disturb even the most skilled and motivated.
An employee who has 100% motivation and 75% ability can often excel at their role. However, a person with 25% ability won't perform up to an expected standard no matter what their level of motivation is. A person with low ability may have been poorly matched with the job in the first place. He/she might have been promoted to a position that's too demanding, or they no longer have the support that previously helped them to perform well.
To take the best course of action, it's imperial to discover the underlying reason for an employee's poor performance.
How to improve the performance
Whether you're dealing with matters of ability, motivation, or personal issues on your team, your natural response might be frustration or annoyance. Truly toxic employees are rare, so keep in mind that the most of us want to leave work at the end of the day with the sense of accomplishment. From time to time we might come across obstacles on our way and might need little help to perform well. It's best to approach a situation empathetically, with compassion and curiosity.
Remeber that compassion leads to trust, which translates into loyalty. Responding with anger and frustration most of the time will erode that trust.
If a person is struggling with a lack of ability in the job, they may feel embarrassed, or afraid to ask for help. Make an effort to listen, alleviate stress, empathise, and help them with additional coaching, training, or resources.
Here are five main ways to overcome performance problems linked to a lack of ability:
Check if an employee has the adequate resources to perform well. Ask a team member if there are additional resources they need. Take note when he/she reports inadequate support and listen to their points of frustration. Always investigate yourself to verify the claims, as people tend to blame external factors, before admitting to their own fault.
Provide additional training to address a skills gap. There are many types of training you can provide: from training seminars, through online courses to subsidised college or university courses.
Resupplying and retraining will often cure poor performance.
When the first two measures don't work, consider refitting the job to the person. Analyse the individual duties of the work, to see if parts of the job can be reassigned, try out different combinations of tasks and abilities. This will most likely involve rearranging the jobs of other team members. Your goal here is to retain the employee, meet operational needs, and provide meaningful and rewarding work to everyone involved.
Decrease the demands of the position by reducing the need for the responsibility, technical knowledge, or interpersonal skills.
If you use reassignment option, ensure that the reassigned job is still stimulating and challenging.
Finally, if the above techniques don't bring the expected results or are not appropriate for the organisation, you may be forced to let the employee go. It might be the best solution for everyone involved.
Work with the employee to create a motivating work environment by setting goals. Ensure that an employee understands what is expected of them and agree on what they need to do to improve.
Once you have put in place, relevant goals provide your team member with the necessary training or resources, regularly asses the employee's ability and encourage cooperation and assistance from coworkers. Provide feedback on their efforts.
Dealing with difficult personal situations
When a team member's slide in performance is related to him struggling to keep up with demands at work and at home, where they are caring for a sick dependant, listen to them and appreciate their situation. It's important to show compassion, but then step back and think about the solution to the problem. In this situation offering a possibility to work from home a day or two a week could make all the difference in them regaining control over their responsibilities and time.
Once you have understood the cause of performance problem you can address it. Try strategies mentioned here to create a positive environment where employees feel supported to reach their performance potential, and valued knowing that their company wants to find a good fit for their abilities. Give performance enhancement your best effort before letting an employee go.