In the world of corporate learning and development, the focus is so often on identifying top talent and giving them the tools and resources they need to succeed. The conversation is almost always focused on how to develop excellent employees and make them an invaluable resource to a company.
There’s an area that’s less discussed that’s also incredibly important, however: managing underperforming employees.
As much as top talent can have a positive impact on a company, underperforming employees can have a negative effect. So what can be done not just to identify these employees, but to manage them effectively?
Before it’s possible to identify underperformers in an organization, there first needs to be defined parameters as to what indicates poor performance. There is a difference between an employee having a low-performance level and one who demonstrates bad conduct. The situations need to be separated and handled differently from one another.
Once you have set guidelines for performance, it’s easier to see when those metrics aren’t being met.
Some specific indicators of poor performance can include:
- Certain goals aren’t being met (this is one of the simplest ways to identify poor performing employees, as long as your organization has goals in place)
- Some employees may appear to be meeting objectives, but in reality, they’re relying heavily on others to help them get there. This is draining on productivity.
- Work may be getting done, but it’s low-quality.
- Sometimes poor performance is indicated by an inability to work with other employees. Their quality of work may be high, but the problems are related to interpersonal conflicts.
- Company culture is an integral aspect of performance. If an employee isn’t able to meet expectations for company culture and values, it could be a red flag. As was touched on above, not adhering to company values or culture is different from flat-out violating policies. For employees who violate policies, the solution may have to be termination.
After identifying performance problems but before coming up with a plan of action, think about what the causes of the problems are. The reasons for performance problems can require very different solutions. For example, the reason for poor performance could be the fact that the employee isn’t clear on expectations. In this case, the burden to remedy the issue may be on the employer. Another big reason for underperformance is a lack of training. These are the easiest to solve in many cases.
There can be other culprits for underperformance which aren’t as easy to solve, such as the employee being the wrong fit for the position or a lack of communication between the employee and other key people.
While identifying underperformance can often focus on one employee or maybe one department, are there more prominent companywide trends? If there is a broader trend toward underperformance, it may be time to focus on employee training at the company level.
Provide Clear Feedback
Once underperformance and possible causes have been identified, it’s a good time to start providing feedback. More often than not, an employee isn’t even aware their work is below performance expectations.
When you’re giving feedback, it also provides you with the opportunity to learn more about the actual causes of underperformance, and that information can be used to create an action plan. When you’re having a conversation with the employee, you’ll be able to gauge if they are trainable and coachable as well. If someone indicates they’re unwilling to change, then it can be time to make a hard decision. If they are willing to change and improve, you can move forward.
For some employees, merely having the conversation and providing feedback may be enough of a motivation to make changes. It’s also essential when giving feedback that you’re listening. Just by listening you’ll hear why the employee feels their performance isn’t adequate, and get more answers as to what can be done.
Make this a time where you’re also discussing possible solutions with the employee. As you are having this discussion and providing feedback, make it about performance and not the person.
Develop Personalized Training
If underperformance is something that’s seen as part of a more significant trend, it may be time to rethink all employee training. If it’s happening at an individual level, the best option is likely to think about personalized training. Implementing personal training through e-Learning is an affordable option that can be used to target problems with performance stemming from a range of issues, including communication and a lack of necessary skills.
As part of training initiatives, set objectives that will allow you to measure success. Many companies rely on SMART performance goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-framed. This kind of structure provides employees and employers with the metrics needed to know if methods are working or if there is a deeper problem happening with the underperforming employee.
Underperformers, once they are given the resources they need to improve, should be regularly monitored. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but specific incremental goals can be outlined and evaluated. Feedback should be provided as an employee goes along to let them know if they’re making improvements or remaining stagnant.
When an employee is part of a plan to improve performance, the employer should emphasize confidentiality as much as possible. It can be tough to do this, but it’s important for employees who genuinely want to make a change. Frame any necessary conversations positively.
Finally, if things aren’t improving even when there are training and outlined metrics, the conversation will likely have to change. The discussion will move from one of coaching to consequences. Firing an employee can have a ripple effect on other employees and the entire organization, so it should be entered into with an understanding of what a big move it is. However, in some cases an underperforming employee can’t be coached into success, and letting them go is what has to happen.
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