One of the challenges that come with being a business leader is working through situations with underperforming employees on your teams. No one wants to be the bearer of bad news, but if a member of the team needs nudging back into positive momentum, then it’s your job to address the issue and to not let it fester, or turn toxic.
Let’s say we have a weak performer named Carl. Carl has been with the company for two years but lately has not been producing his best work. He’s missing deadlines, leaving projects unfinished, forcing his colleagues to pick up the slack and his attitude has generally gone downhill. Things are not going so hot and everyone knows it. What to do? Here’s a savvy business leader’s guide to taking on the challenge in a smart way.
Define the problem. The first step is to make Carl aware that his work has been slipping and that it’s affecting his teammates. Really think about what the issues are, what they may be stemming from and write up a list of areas for improvement. (Writing these out will especially help if you’re a conflict-avoidant person.) Don’t ignore the issue – it will only get worse and create tension among Carl’s team.
Address the issue in a timely manner. The longer you wait to bring it up, the harder it will be to help Carl correct his actions and get back to a productive state. And if you wait too long, his work habits may become uncorrectable. Make sure you talk to Carl while there’s plenty of time to help him get the skills he needs for optimal performance.
Communicate clearly. Make sure Carl is clear on performance expectations and where the issues lie so that he knows exactly how to improve and move forward. The worst thing you can do is to tell an employee he or she is underperforming and make it unclear as to why, or even how, they can fix it. This will only lead to demotivation and a crushing lack of clarity.
Take action. Help Carl get the training, discipline or whatever he may need to improve his performance and become a stronger employee. If he needs to work on his time management, give him tools and resources to do so. If he needs an overall better attitude, talk him through ways to manage his stress and think more positively about his work. Create an improvement plan so you can check in to see how Carl’s work ethic has changed once you’ve addressed the issues.
In the end, helping the Carl of your office will only improve team morale and increase the respect your employees have for you. Low performers will respect your directness and appreciate your working with them on improvements. High performers will respect you for addressing the team’s shortcomings and for not making them bear the brunt of the decreased team efficiency.
If you’ve got underperformers on your team, don’t let the issue lie. Be direct. Be sensitive. And be aware of the timing.