How to deal with an Under-Performing Staff Member

Posted: October 31, 2012 in Leadership

To help deal with under-performing staff, here is a guide to help determine why the person may under-perform and possible courses of actions to take.

Turning a blind eye to mediocre performance implies you are condoning sub-standard work.  The best course of action is to identify and confront problems early.  Meet with the person to determine the reason for under-performance and take the necessary steps.  However if improvement does not occur, be clear about the consequences.

Unclear targets and expectations Many times we, as leaders, are vague and brief in our instructions. Therefore, the staff, or volunteer, does not know what they’re supposed to do.  And it’s very possible they may be fearful of admitting to their “boss” they don’t understand. Identify expected outcomes and completion dates. Always ask for feedback and accept it gracefully and patiently. Instructions must be clear and understood to be followed.

Poor ‘fit’ for the task or position Fit is one of the most difficult things to measure, yet the success or failure often rests with how well the staff or volunteer’s behaviors, interests and preferences blend with others on staff. Maybe having a blunt discussion with the person to determine jointly if the chemistry is right.

No rewards for doing a good job Rewards, in the form of personal recognition, can be simple and very effective.  Saying ‘thank you’ for a job well done, giving a gift card to a local restaurant, or writing a brief note of appreciation will go a long way to motivating people. Be specific in praise.

The Person does not have the skills or knowledge to do the job The source of this problem is, again, in the Leadership process.  You may have “inherited” the person, there be “nepotism” involved, and it’s “politically incorrect” to change, but regardless of the original cause; a Leader must move to quickly identify where the gaps exist and provide the necessary training to do the job properly.

Staff do not understand how their job fits in the big picture In other words, does the person realize how important their success is to the overall mission of the organization?  All tasks in any situation are important; otherwise they wouldn’t be there. Let people know how valuable their role is.

Poor relationship with the leader Studies have shown this is the #1 reason why people underperform.  In my experience, one of the most common reasons for this poor relationship is the leader attempting to apply what I call a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to managing.  We fail to recognize that each person takes in information differently and responds in different ways. Spend some time with them to understand “how” they sort communication.

Family or health issues conflict with work There may be concerns over their home life, health issues, even stress, could cause issues. Sometimes a person will not be open about these things, maybe seeing them as an embarrassment. An open, supportive workplace with a focus on health and wellness will help employees achieve a better balance between their work life and home life.


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