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5 simple ways to salvage a ‘below-standard’ employee

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

Every manager faces employees who exhibit below-standard performance. These aren’t terrible employees who should be shown the door, but they’re not achieving the quality or quantity of work they’re capable of.

Unless the performance issue is addressed directly, it’ll only get worse.

Too many managers try to deal with such employees by sending subtle signals.

Not smart. According to an OnPoint Consulting report, here are the five best ways to give below-standard workers a performance boost:

1. Paint a clear picture of what “good” performance looks like. It’s not enough to say, “Joe, you need to be more proactive.” What does that really look like? Perhaps Joe isn’t taking the initiative to share information with team members, or he isn’t anticipating problems or informing clients of key decisions.

But until you can articulate specific behaviors and outcomes, it is very difficult to communicate which standards are—or aren’t—being met.

2. Communicate your expectations in plain English. It’s not fair to hit them with corrective feedback or a bad review if you haven’t made your expectations clear.

When setting goals, it’s helpful to clearly state, “Here’s what meeting expectations looks like, and here’s what exceeding expectations would look like.” Clear and agreed-upon expectations provide a solid foundation upon which to provide recognition and feedback.

3. Don’t let expertise or revenue production be a get-out-of-trouble-free card for the employee. (Or a get-out-of-confrontation-free card for you!)

Even though Sally brings in a big account, she isn’t necessarily doing a good job. If she’s brusque or condescending with co-workers, she’s slowly poisoning your culture.

If the organization’s values are to have any real meaning, then “how” work gets done must be considered just as important as “what” gets done.

4. Raise performance concerns while they are fresh. Confrontation can be awkward and difficult, but it must be done. It’s the only way to prevent performance issues from becoming a problem employee.

But don’t wait to give feedback on formal reviews. Behavior change is much more successful when efforts are regularly reinforced.

5. Celebrate small victories. Recog­­nize progress toward improvement.

Too often, managers reserve recognition for their top performers or “save it up” until poor performers reach a certain standard. But it’s important to recognize all positive behavior, especially when it’s a step in the right direction for an employee who has a performance issue. This helps build momentum and confidence.

Turning underachievers into overachievers: How to spark the turnaround

Dealing with underachievers requires using your judgment and some knowledge of human psychology. Here are some ways to get your underachieving em­­ployees moving in the right direction.

1. Talk about it. Communication is the key to managing anyone—underachievers and everyone else. If you can’t seem to communicate with the underachiever, get one of the person’s peers to sit in on the meeting. Maybe the peer can get through where you can’t.

2. Expect more from them. What you expect from people is often what you get. If you write off an underachiever, he is likely to live up to your low expectations. Underachievers need more responsibility, not less.

3. Keep them stimulated.

Example: Assess the competence of people who are low on the totem pole and then give them coaching.

That approach has a twofold benefit:

  1. If they’re learning more, they’ll feel ­better about themselves.
  2. If they feel better about themselves, the company will benefit.

4. Train people to train. Using lower-level workers to train others serves as a morale booster. Plus, when they train, they learn more themselves. Under­­achievers who are given this leadership role have a better attitude, their ­productivity is higher and they have more self-esteem.

5. Use the team approach. This is often a successful approach with under­­achievers. You want to draw them into a unit that’s bigger than they are and give them a purpose outside themselves. They need to know that their emotional connection with the company has a direct effect on company profits. If they don’t care what happens to the company, they’ll likely leave.

6. Don’t be afraid to discipline. Employees, especially underachievers, need discipline and structure. They need to know that someone’s watching. Not everyone can function independently. Instead of making the manager the disciplinarian, try to set it up so the team acts as the disciplinary influence.

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