As a business owner you're bound to run into the problem of underperforming employees. In most cases this happens over time, so you'll see that an employee who was once doing well starts to slack off and fall behind, but sometimes you hire someone who just doesn't do quite as well as you had anticipated. Whatever the reason for those underperforming, it's your job as the employer to figure out the problem and find a solution. When all is said and done, in order to be successful you really need to make sure you do two things: Reach the employee in the first place so that you create respect and then coach the employee on ways to improve.

Fortunately, this isn't too difficult if you have a few tricks up your sleeve and understand what has worked for others in the past. Remember that you're not the only one in this position, and you don't have to give up on your employees in order to succeed. Check out a few of the tips to getting started below:

Determine why under performance may be happening.

There are many different reasons that an employee may be underperforming, so it's up to you to try and learn as much information as you can before going and asking the employee outright. The more you know, the better you can communicate with the employee in the right way. As discussed above, those underperforming can usually fall into one of three categories:

  • They have lost interest. This usually happens if the job becomes too easy, if they get annoyed with a lack of recognition or appreciation, or if they have a negative attitude and never really cared about the job in the first place. Those who fall into this category usually started off strong and then faded.
  • There are outside issues affecting their mindset. This can be a reason for underperforming and is usually just temporary. If this is the case, it's up to the employer to work with the employee to see what's needed to stay focused. For many, it's some much needed time off. 
  • They're overwhelmed, uninformed, or under qualified. Those who fall into this category were usually under performers right from the start. If they're getting too much work to handle well or if no one taught them how to perform well, it's your job to uncover this and take the right steps.

Determining which category your employee falls into can help you move forward with the steps below in the right way. A good place to start is to take a look at the employees past work and accomplishments to help you determine if the underperformance is normal.

Have feedback points in place and then talk to the employee.

As soon as possible you should talk with the employee about some of what you're noticing and what you're hoping to improve upon in the future. Make sure to also look intrinsically at some of the things you can do to help complete your goals and bring that up in your meeting. The more bullet points you can have the better. It shows you have basis for what you're saying and you have a solution that involves both you and the employee. Again, which of the three categories the employee falls into above will help you determine what that plan for success needs to be.

It's also a good idea to bring company-wide concerns into the discussion so that you can show the employee that it's not just you who has a problem with the work being done. Don't single out the employee or say that anyone else has said anything about him/her in particular, but talk about why the issues are affecting the company as a whole.

Understand what the employee does well or what he/she is passionate about.

This step coincides with the last step (and sometimes comes before). The more you can understand about what the employee really cares about the more you can find the right motivators to improve performance. If what they care about has nothing to do with your company, keep that in mind and see if you can form any type of connection. If they value volunteering, consider creating a volunteer program for employees as a perk. If they went to school for something creative but are a part of your account management team, see if you can make some sort of transition or blend the two positions so that they are working on something they're passionate about some of the time. Believe it or not, this will make a big difference when it comes to motivation.

Have a plan ready to go and ask for suggestions from the employee.

It's up to you to have at least some sort of solution to the problem; however, it's crucial that you're open to hearing from the employee. Ask them questions, get to know them, and show them that you care. You can then ask them what they think they need to become a better performer and see if they have any ideas or feedback. They may make excuses, but you can turn that around into something positive.

Monitor progress and be appreciative.

Always monitor the progress the employee is making and show that you're aware that their performance is improving (or vice versa). The more positive reinforcement you can give the better. In the majority of cases, an under performing employee needs that extra recognition so give it to them. 

Continue to follow-up.

The worst things you can do is have a meeting with an employee, create a plan, and then get too busy to follow-up on how things are going. For many employees the lack of interest and/or accountability is the reason for underperformance, so this is something that needs to be a priority for you as an employer. Following-up also ensures that an employee doesn't fall back into their old ways, which would mean you have to start the process over, or get overwhelmed.

The Takeaway

In the end, it's important to do all that you can to highlight an employee's strengths and help him/her succeed, especially if the employee has the drive to succeed and is just struggling. However, if you're dealing with an attitude issue and nothing you do seems to be improving performance, it's important to know when to cut ties. Make sure that you've completed the steps above a few times to really give the employee a chance, but after several weeks with no progress the best thing for your company may be to let the employee go. If you wait too long, negative energy could start to infiltrate your business, so keep a close eye on the situation and don't let it fall through the cracks.