Career Coach: Managing an Underperformer

5 ways to help an underperformer improve—or move on.

Working with an underperformer ranks as one of the most difficult challenges any manager will face, but poor performance must be addressed immediately. Great managers take the time to work with these employees to transform them into major contributors and higher-level employees. Here are five best practices to keep in mind:

1. Diagnose the issue. This doesn’t mean walking up to your underperformer and saying, “Hey, is your mediocre performance a lack of motivation or a lack of ability?” Instead, have a critical conversation, give him real feedback, and try to get at the root of the problem. When you talk to your employee and identify the issue, it’s much easier to move forward.

2. Make an improvement plan—and stick to it. Set measurable goals, specify consequences, and celebrate successes—big and small. Make sure you and the employee decide on the goals together, which gives him ownership too.

3. Tell him you’re on his side. Reiterate that feedback is part of the growth and development of every employee and that you want him to succeed. Let him know that if he commits to performing better, you’ll commit to helping him meet his goals.

4. Document everything. If it comes to a point where the employee needs to be let go, you’ll need documentation to make your case. As you follow the first three steps, be sure to recap everything in writing. This information should be shared with your HR team.

5. Know when it’s time to make a tough decision. If you’ve done your due diligence as a manager, a decision to let an employee go generally should not come as a shock to anyone. Remember, you aren’t the only one noticing the performance issues—the rest of your team is seeing them too—but you are the only one in a position to make a tough call and do what is best for the team.

Maureen Glass, CAE

By Maureen Glass, CAE

Maureen Glass, CAE, is a certified executive coach and president of Maureen Glass Consulting, LLC. MORE

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