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Employees are the engine that drives every small business. With a well chosen staff of talented and enthusiastic people your business can hum along like a well oiled machine. However, if one of your employees begins to lose focus, that engine can soon start to sputter and your well oiled machine might easily grind to a halt. 

Employee performance is one of the chief concerns of every small business owner, and knowing how to handle an underachieving team member is critical to keeping your company in the black. An incompetent or apathetic employee can adversely impact the workforce as a whole, lowering moral and impeding productivity. That old adage still rings true, “one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch”. 

Assessing the Situation 

There are two basic types of underachieving employee. The regrettable hire who, while looking good on paper and interviewing well, is either not suited for the job at hand or is simply a poor fit for the company. These types of problem employees can sometimes be brought into the fold through extra training and supervision. Of course, that takes time and time is money. 

Then there is the once highly valued employee who, for one reason or another, has lost their way and is now failing to meet their goals. They may have reached burn out, they may feel unappreciated, or there may be outside forces that are distracting them from their work. These types of employees are almost always worth the extra effort to rehabilitate, but again it can take some time. 

Sprout Funding logoAs a business owner or office manager it’s your responsibility to take poorly performing employs in hand and get them on the right track. Whether they’re new hires that aren’t living up to expectations or long term employees who are starting to slip the sooner you address the situation the better for all concerned. 

To make the process easier, we’ve put together some simple guidelines that will help you successfully address the situation. 

Keep the Discussion Private 

Schedule a time to speak with your employee privately. Make certain you will not be interrupted and be discrete about the meeting. Under no circumstances should you discuss an employee’s performance in front of their colleagues. 

Keep it Civil 

It is important to remain calm and collected throughout the discussion. If you take a confrontational tone from the outset your employee will get defensive and you will accomplish next to nothing. Keep it civil and make it clear that you are not planning to fire anybody but that you do need to talk about their recent on-the-job performance. Let your team member know that this discussion is a two way street, and you are as interested in their opinions as you hope they are in your feedback. 

Listen to Your Employee’s Perspective 

Start by asking your employee to assess their own recent performance. Encourage them to give examples of where they believe they are, and are not, meeting their performance goals. By getting their feedback you can gauge where the conversation needs to go next. 

You might find that your employee is aware of their shortcomings, and is conscious of their need to improve. In which case you will have a better idea of how to direct their energies. On the other hand, they may mistakenly believe they’re doing fine. In which case you’ll need to be ready to carefully outline where they are under-performing and how that is impacting the company itself. 

Clarify Your Position 

Hopefully, at this point, you and your employee are getting closer to being on the same page. You both understand that their performance is slipping and that they need to refocus and up their game. Now is the time for clarity. Be forthcoming about your needs and expectations as their employer, and how they can successfully address their shortcomings. Discuss specific instances where they have missed important goals and the impact that has had on the company and on the employees who may have had to pick up the slack. Outline where the worker’s performance has been lacking and show how she or he can improve moving forward. 

Be Specific in Your Critique 

Be prepared to offer specific examples of on-the-job behavior and performance that have fallen short of the mark. This can not be emphasized enough. Vague references to unsatisfactory habits or conduct won’t give your employee the direction they need to improve. For example, if they have missed deadlines or failed to respond to interoffice memos or emails site specific examples of this behavior. 

It is also important to be clear when discussing an employee’s interoffice behavior. It’s not helpful to simply tell an employee that they’re too quiet at the weekly meeting. That doesn’t provide the direction they need. Instead, tell them you want to hear their opinion on new campaigns and business strategies before they leave the meeting. This level of specificity not only gives workers the direction they need to improve their performance, but makes it more difficult for them to argue with your assessment because it is based on observable facts. 

Work Together to Create a Workable Plan for Improvement 

Finally, as the conversation draws to a close, work with your employee to create a definite plan for improvement. Together you need to set realistic goals and agree on a timeline in which actionable changes can be observed. Schedule follow up interviews to keep the lines of communication open, and continue to monitor the worker’s on-the-job performance moving forward making a not of any highlights and failures along the way. 

The Cost of Under-Performing Employees 

It is important to remember that under-performing employees don’t exist in isolation, and there is a definite knock-on effect that can adversely impact the entirety of your business. Problem employees can lead to low morale in the workplace, loss of productivity across the board, and increased turnover in more valuable staff members. That spells trouble for your bottom line, and for the future of your business. 

While it may be tempting to ignore poor performance in an employee, and simply hope that they will up their game and improve their behavior over time, these problems rarely go away without direct intervention from management. Time is of the essence, and employers must be ready to step in and give their employees the direction they need to succeed. If you have a team member that is not living up to their potential, these guidelines should help you address the problem in a timely and effective manner.

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