Deciding how to handle an employee who is not performing up to par can be difficult, but resolving performance issues is a fundamental responsibility of leadership. Unaddressed performance issues among team members can decrease efficiency, lower customer satisfaction, and impact morale for the entire team — not just the underperforming member.
Learning how to approach employee performance problems effectively is critical for team success. When leadership takes a proactive role, coaching team members and giving them the tools they need to succeed, the benefits can be exponential.
By deepening your team’s professional knowledge, improving their focus, stoking their fire, and solidifying their faith in organizational initiatives, a good leader can create synergy that leads to a healthier work environment and improved productivity.
Identifying Performance Issues
The first step in correcting employee performance is identifying the issues affecting the employee. The more quickly a problem is identified and addressed, the less likely it is to become a habit. Some common issues include:
- Missed deadlines
- Decreased work quality
- Frequent tardiness or absences
- Unmet quotas
- Strained workplace relationships
Many organizations have software designed to help leaders track performance. Leaders should use all available tools to gather, analyze, and share team and individual performance data.
Remember, effective leadership tracks performance on an ongoing basis. Outstanding leadership makes performance tracking an automatic and transparent part of organizational culture, giving team members easy access to performance data.
Communicating With Employees About Performance Issues
Organizations that deal with employee poor performance well are organizations with a solid communication culture. By creating an environment of trust and transparency, leaders build a workplace where employees value open and honest communication as a resource rather than seeing it as a threat.
Once leaders have established that foundation of trust, communicating with employees regarding performance issues becomes less stressful for both parties. But what does a good performance conversation look like? Leaders should:
- Praise and reward employees for achievements and work well done
- Communicate the specific performance issues in a clear, concise, and empathetic way
- Listen actively to employee concerns and work together to investigate potential barriers to improved performance
- Give constructive feedback that works toward building solutions rather than scolding for past failures
- Offer ongoing support through training, mentoring, and regular check-ins
By creating a culture of continuous coaching, leaders can quickly identify, communicate, and remediate performance issues while they are still minor.
Corrective Measures vs Punitive Actions
Even the best conversation in the world won’t mean a thing if change does not occur. Leaders must implement corrective measures to support and encourage the behavioral changes they want to see.
Corrective measures are not meant to be punishments and differ significantly from punitive actions like pay docking or demotion. Corrective measures support and assist employees in achieving improved performance. Common corrective actions include:
- Coaching: Ongoing formal and informal conversations with leadership regarding progress, strategies, and obstacles build trust and motivation.
- Mentoring: Regular guidance and support — from a high-achieving employee in the same or similar position who can provide ongoing support, offer strategies, and speak from experience regarding the realities of obstacles and challenges — helps broaden knowledge and improve workplace relationships.
- Additional training: Solidifying or deepening the foundation of knowledge that an employee brings to their role can boost confidence and improve efficiency.
Good leaders must help their team remember that correction, while sometimes uncomfortable, isn’t punishment. It’s a vital part of the improvement process.
How to Create an Effective Performance Improvement Plan
A clear action plan for struggling employees is vital for future success and improvement. A Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) is a structured approach to addressing performance issues.
A good PIP clarifies an employee's role within the company and clearly defines what success in that role looks like on an achievable timeline. If that sounds like a tall order, don’t panic. Creating a PIP is a learned skill, just like everything else. The basic steps are:
- Assessment: Evaluate the employee's current performance and identify areas for improvement
- Goal Setting: Set measurable and achievable performance goals that align with the employee's role and responsibilities
- Action Plan: Develop a clear action plan outlining the steps needed to achieve the performance goals
- Support and Resources: Identify any necessary resources, training, or support to help the employee succeed
- Timelines: Establish a timeline for the PIP, including regular check-ins and evaluations
- Monitoring and Feedback: Create a system for ongoing monitoring, feedback, and adjustments throughout the implementation process
Remember, leaders can help foster an increased sense of accountability and ownership by allowing employees to contribute to creating their PIP.
Balancing Support and Accountability
Ongoing support is an integral part of the coaching process. Leaders should regularly check in with their team and quickly acknowledge progress and improvements. When leaders recognize effort regularly, it creates a positive feedback loop, motivating employees to continue to improve.
Regular contact also allows leaders to offer support and retool parts of the PIP that may not work or require adjustment as time passes. Leaders may need to provide new tools or find new avenues of growth to explore as the employee finds their feet.
Support doesn’t mean hand-holding or micromanaging. The ultimate goal of any PIP should be to help the employee gain agency and strive for accountability in improving their performance. Ideally, the employee acts as a partner in improvement, actively reaching out and communicating their needs, concerns, and successes.
When to Consider Further Actions
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, performance issues prove to be persistent. Maybe the tardy employee continues to be late, or the under-performer still fails to meet their KPIs. What next? Leaders must examine the reason behind the persistent issue to determine the best course of action.
Has the employee demonstrated genuine effort and accountability to fix the problem? Do they have valuable skills that benefit the organization that their current position does not highlight? Reassignment to a different role or department may be the solution.
In other cases, where persistent low performance results from active resistance to correction or a failure to take accountability, termination may need to be considered.
Help Mitigate Performance Issues With Consistent Coaching
Studies show that 92% of employees want feedback more often than once a year. People want to be good at what they do, feel valued for the skills they bring, and improve areas where they struggle.
All employees can be assets, but sometimes, it takes some help to unlock that ability. When leaders choose a continuous coaching model for performance evaluation, they can approach performance issues compassionately, generating exponential growth and improvement.
If you’re a leader and feel like your annual performance review system has outlived its usefulness, don’t wait. Methods like the GROW® Model have been helping businesses boost employee effectiveness for decades.
Learn more about rebooting the performance review process with InsideOut Development.