How to Transform an Under-Performing Employee

It’s very likely that at some point you will need to address an employee who isn’t quite working at their best. It’s important to consider why they might be underperforming, as well as what you can do to manage the issue with care and consideration. Here’s some good tips on how to transform an underperforming employee into a rockstar.

Lead with Empathy

Remember that your job is to coach the employee, not to scare them into compliance. Always lead with empathy and compassion. Avoid making assumptions or casting judgments. Instead, ask open-ended questions and seek to understand their position. Utilize active listening skills to seek clarification and help the worker feel heard. Be sensitive that poor or lackluster performance may be a result of a personal crisis.

Close the Feedback Gap

You’ll need to meet more frequently with an underperforming employee in order to guide their behavioral changes. If you do annual performance reviews, this is a good time to discuss areas of improvement. But, frequency helps, and doing real time performance corrections is impactful. Schedule weekly or even daily check-ins for a while, until it appears that the situation is resolved. But be careful not to micromanage. These check-ins should be brief and focused solely on the issue you are trying to resolve. Let the employee speak freely each time and periodically encourage negative feedback.

Assign a Silent Mentor

Ask someone on the employee’s team to serve as a silent mentor, quietly assisting the underperformer as needed without making it obvious. This person should be tactful and diplomatic, and genuinely seek to help rather than direct. It also needs to be someone who is comfortable with their work and able to offer assistance without losing control of their own job duties.

Offer More Responsibility

Sometimes employees underperform because they feel undervalued, their job is not the best fit for their skills, or they’re ready to accept a larger role with more responsibilities. With the changes in automation, it’s relatively easy to find a learning or training program that is a win-win for you and your employee. Assigning them more responsibility or displaying more recognition shows that you believe in them. It creates trust, leaves little time for wallowing, and reminds them that they have something valuable to contribute.

Connect Their Work to Their Goals and Values

Find out what motivates the employee, and then find a way to tie their work to their motivators. Poor performance can be the result of boredom or burnout. Show them how their job duties are a stepping stone toward achieving their goals, whether personal or professional. Also, tie the work to the organization’s mission, helping them see the broader picture.

Working with an underperforming employee can be challenging. But with a bit of compassion and patience, you can often turn the person around and develop them into a star.

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