5 steps in dealing with underperformers and how to turn them around
Nobody enjoys dealing with underperforming employees (underperformers) as the process can be uncomfortable and tricky at times. However, if left undealt with, underperformers can become a negative effect on your business as a whole, affecting not just the productivity rate but the morale and performance of the entire workforce.
While letting them go might be the easy way out and even tempting if these were really worthless employees, chances are that not all of them are considered bad.
Retrenchment can also be complicated and have legal ramifications for companies should disgruntled ex-employees decide to bring a case to the Industrial Court Malaysia. This could be costly, draining and affect morale of other employees as well.
In addition, it would cost your company more in recruiting, training and not to mention the loss in productivity, hence taking steps to turn around underperformers would be much more cost effective than replacing them.
What is underperformance?
In general, underperformance is defined as the failure to perform the assigned duties at the expected work deliveries as required by the employer’s organisations. It can also be exhibited as non-compliance with the work policies in place, unsatisfactory work behaviour or disruptive behaviour that affects other employees.
Dealing with underperformance in the workplace:
Step 1: Identify and understand the root problem / cause
Before you can devise a plan on how to manage and turn around your underperformers, you must approach your employee to identify and understand the root problem. To do this, you should first gather all evidence and facts before speaking to your employee, to justify why you think that your employee is underperforming.
When you approach your employee, ensure that you maintain your professionalism and be as calm as possible. Avoid all emotional confrontation. State your reasons as to why you think he / she is underperforming and present your findings.
Once your message is clear, start asking if the employee is facing any difficulty. Consider factors such as personal life issues, an illness, the employee’s stress level or mental wellbeing or even factors that may derive from the workplace such as bullying or other mistreatment from people in the workplace.
Step 2: Clarify your expectations and discuss what motivates them
Once you have identified your root problem, you can help by finding a solution for your employee’s problem. This might be difficult, depending on the complexity of the root cause however it would be comforting for your employee to know that you and the management actually care for him / her, despite being an underperformer.
This is also where you can review to see if your employee understands what is expected of him / her. Sometimes, employees underperformed simply because they are unsure about the boundaries and the expected level of their roles.
At the same time, you might also want to find out what motivates them in order for you to develop a plan that can help improve on their performance. If possible, use this motivational factor as an idea for you to incorporate as a form of reward if they successfully improve on their performance.
Step 3: Develop a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP)
Next, you should develop a performance improvement plan (PIP) based on the information that you have gathered from your meeting with the underperformer. PIPs, also known as performance action plan (PAP), is an action-plan that is implemented with the aim to improve the performance of underperforming employees with the hopes of turning them around.
It is recommended for HR professionals and managers involved to review and develop this plan together. Ideally, the PIP should be delivered in writing to the employee, acknowledged and accepted by the employee before it can even begin. PIPs should include specific and measurable objectives, also known as “specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-frame-based (SMART)” goals. It also should set out the rewards awarded if the employee improved and sanctions that will be imposed if the underperforming employee fails to improve.
Step 4: Coach, monitor and give feedback
Once the plan is in place, both parties (the employer and employee) should regularly monitor the progress towards the objectives of the PIP. Always allow room for your employees to ask questions and seek for guidance to address the roadblocks faced throughout the PIP. Consider providing regular feedback to your employees, either by weekly, biweekly or monthly, to ensure that they stay on the right track and to address problems on an immediate basis.
Step 5: Reward improvement
Great managers know when to reward their employees. In this case, rewards would be highly appreciated by underperforming employees who have put in effort to make amends. Never underestimate the power of a praise and a simple ‘thank you’ to your employees. Praising and rewarding your employees brings positivity not just to your underperformers but to the workforce as it shows that you are paying attention to their hard work and this becomes a vital form of motivation.
What if there is still no improvement in performance?
Your efforts in turning around underperformers will only end in three ways; either their performance improve, which means your plan was a success or nothing changes, or worse, their performance get worse. It is not easy to turn around an underperformer as it also requires an equal level of commitment and the will to improve from the underperformer himself / herself.
However, there are times that things just don’t work out the way it should be, no matter how much you have tried to keep them in the company. Therefore, you should also be mentally prepared to let them go, although this step should always be treated as the last resort.
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