Thursday, October 17, 2013

How to Manage Underperforming Employees

Why Are Your Underperforming Employees Underperforming?

The symptoms are obvious: unmet deadlines, incorrectly performed tasks, unhappy customers and/or team members, low productivity, etc.

But when it comes to how to manage underperforming employees, it’s important to remember that it’s not just about what they’re doing or not doing right now to fulfill the requirements of their current role. There could be many reasons why an underperforming employee isn't performing well, including:

  • Negative environmental factors
  • They haven't been given the right training
  • They don't have the right ability or preference to perform well within that role
  • They might be missing out on a certain direction
  • Their manager might not know about their needs

How to Manage Underperforming Employees

The real question is this: When employees are underperforming, do performance improvement plans really go far enough to look at individuals and how suited they are for the role that they’re in?

The challenge to the organization, HR, and the employee’s manager should be developing it holistically. Will it consider just that person’s performance in their current role, or will it also look at their suitability for the role in terms of their skills, competencies, aptitudes, and personality? Will it consider other roles in the organization that the employee may be better suited to performing? Career and personality assessments can be very useful for this diagnosing piece.

The action planning piece can then outline one – or possibly two - things:

  1. What it takes for the individual to bridge the gap between what they can’t do right now and what’s required for their current role
  2. How to take a longer term view and start developing the individual for other (or alternate) roles within the organization.
However, you will never be able to plan for #2 if you don’t take the time to properly diagnose.


Stop Missing Opportunities with Your Underperforming Employees

Organizations are possibly missing an opportunity here by not understanding what the underperforming employees have to offer, and by only looking at the requirements of their role and how they’re not meeting them.

Are they stretching it enough to look at their next career step? As we know, it's not always all about upward career movement. When employees are performing well, of course the expectation is that they’ll be promoted. But when they’re underperforming but their talent and knowledge capital could still be useful to the organization in different ways, consider lateral career movement, so that taking on different tasks, projects, and responsibilities they’re more suited to, or just moving to a different department or role, are always options.

And once you consider how underperforming employees can take different career moves in order to be more productive, the whole thinking around career development and internal talent mobility can be brought into the performance discussion. Then how to manage your underperforming employees becomes a question of how can we develop this employee rather than how soon will we have to let this employee go?

Remember that you have to find the root cause before you can develop the cure – in this case, the performance improvement plan. A cure, after all, doesn’t just treat symptoms – it solves the problem.  

Read next: Career Development After a Downsizing

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