Quick Fixes for Poor Employee Performance

Is one of your employees not doing the job as well as you'd like them to?  There are a lot of formal performance interventions you can take, and you should reach out to your HR department for help.  Before you do that, though, it might be worth asking yourself a few key questions to see if there might be an easy fix.  First, ask yourself: 

Communication: Have I clearly and consistently communicated what I expect?  (Hint: you are not the best judge of this - ask your employee to repeat it back to you, and you might be surprised what you hear.)

Context: Is the context in which the employee is working supportive of his or her success?

Consequences: What consequences have been applied so far, if any, to the employee's performance?  Do those consequence reinforce the behavior effectively?

Depending on which are is the source of the problem, there are several actions you can take.

What to do if communication is the issue

  • Make sure that you sit down with the employee and clearly convey what it is you expect from him or her in concrete, behavioral terms.  
  • Check to see if mixed messages are being conveyed by other leaders, including your boss.
  • Carve out time to respond real-time to the employee's actions so that you can react to the employee's behavior and provide him or her with useful feedback that puts your expectations in context.  
  • Work hard to find examples where he or she is on the right track, and call attention to those actions.
  • Talk with your boss if there seem to be mixed messages coming from above. 

What to do if context is the issue

  • Ask the employee what would help in being more successful.  This is to help you understand what he or she views as the issue.  Is it a lack of time?  The wrong tools?  Address any critical obstacles, and then allow the employee to earn any nice-to-have options (like working from home or getting the latest version of currently-adequate software) by improving his or her performance.
  • Identify what skills the employee needs, and see if you can find a quick and easy way to train him or her on those skills.  Could she shadow someone else on the team?  Would a half-day of your time pay off in his ability to do things on his own in the future?
  • Resist the urge to swoop in and do it yourself, but consider whether additional help from you or someone else on the team might help the employee to move forward.
  • Help the employee to focus on the fundamentals.  You may need to take nonessential projects off his or her plate until the core work is up to par.  (Note: this should only be done for a short time, as it can function as a reward for poor performance and punishes any well-performing members of the team who have to take on that work.)

What to do if consequences are the issue

  • Be open with the employee and acknowledge that you (or others) may have unintentionally sent the wrong message about his or her work.
  • Identify the behaviors that you wish to see the employee exhibiting, and communicate them to the employee.
  • Encourage the employee when he or she does the things you've asked for.
  • Do not provide rewards or privileges if the employee is under-performing.  This not only sends the wrong message to the employee but can also really demotivate the members of your team who are doing good work and receiving the same or lesser rewards.
  • Try to make sure you're also paying attention to your other employees as you try to coach the underperformer.  Acknowledge the work they're doing and don't inadvertently send the message that the best way to get your time and attention is to do work poorly.

If none of these fixes help, then it's time to reach out to HR. 

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