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Updated 26 Feb 2020

How to turn an underperformer into an ideal employee

Here are six tips for handling difficult situations with employees:

Jacqueline Whitmore, Entrepreneur, 14 March 2015  Share  0 comments  Print

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A good leader knows how to motivate employees so they'll perform at their highest level. Workplace conflicts, however, sometimes arise and may interfere with an employee’s professionalism and performance.

Some managers are quick to fire underperforming employees, but a good leader will address problems and challenges long before termination is considered.

Related: Keep employees engaged

1. Meet privately

Don't address individual challenges with specific employees during a staff meeting or group discussion even if the behavior is occuring right then.

If you chide someone in public, especially in front of peers and colleagues, he or she will be more likely to respond defensively. Instead, schedule a time to meet in private to thoroughly address the problem and discuss a solution.

2. Identify the problem

Some challenges are simple to address. If an employee consistently arrives at work 15 to 30 minutes late, you may find it relatively easy to help that individual understand why that tardiness is unacceptable.

Other issues related to performance and professionalism can be more difficult to define. Perhaps an employee performs his or her job well but is perceived as rude or aggressive by other team members.

Another individual may technically follow the dress code but consistently appears disheveled at client meetings. Clearly identify what needs to be said and how before speaking to the employee.

3. Ensure an issue is worth a conversation

Some of the most successful managers and leaders tell their teams what they need to do, not how to go about it. Though someone’s approach or work style may be very different from your own, distinguish personality differences from performance issues.

You hired members of your team because you thought they were qualified and capable. Give employees an opportunity to shine in their own way. You may not appreciate an untidy desk but it might not be worth addressing until it affects the employee’s performance or the company’s image.

4. Be clear and straight forwardMale -super -hero _male -sales -person

Don’t delay or avoid a conversation that needs to take place. Having a discussion may be uncomfortable, but it’s important to clearly state expectations to employees and follow up when performance issues arise.

If you don’t address a problem, it could fester and spread to other team members. When you address the problem head-on, you will provide the staff member an opportunity to improve and show the rest of the team that your expectations should be taken seriously.

Related: Happy employees help keep a business growing

5. Avoid personal attacks

When you meet with an employee to discuss a performance issue, avoid a potential argument and address only the person's behavior. Handle the conflict gracefully and avoid anything that could be perceived as a personal attack.

Choose your words carefully, avoid using profanity and losing your temper. If the person you’re speaking with raises his or her voice or becomes angry, don’t match that level of intensity. Instead, remain calm and keep your voice at an even tempo. Listen and work with the employee to find a compromise.

6. Make a plan and follow up

To grow with a company, employees must be willing to accept their manager's guidance and suggestions. If someone refuses to change his or her performance or behavior, you may have to take serious action.

If an employee is open to change, create a clear action plan. Decide on two or three goals together and lay out a plan for making measureable improvements. Be realistic and give the employee enough time to accomplish the changes.

Related: Don't let the good ones go

Then follow up. Monitor the employee’s progress by meeting at regular intervals. If minor issues arise or the employee hits a roadblock, work with him or her to overcome the challenge. Small improvements over time can turn an underperformer into an ideal employee. 

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About the author

Jacqueline Whitmore, Entrepreneur

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