How to address poor work performance

Manager addressing poor work performance with employee in office

A successful workplace is a lot like a winning baseball team. Everyone has a role to play and, ideally, everyone is accountable to one another. Errors can be costly, but should be expected from time to time, while the occasional home run benefits the whole team.

Of course, managers sometimes have to make the difficult decision to cut their losses when someone’s performance just isn’t up to snuff. Even all-stars can lose their touch mid-season. As in baseball, if you want your workplace to perform like a winning team, you need to know how to address poor work performance one player at a time.

When poor work performance is a failure of management

Smart, capable, and skilled employees can and often do fail to deliver a quality work product for reasons beyond their control. For instance, maybe they weren’t the right person for the job to begin with. Applicants often follow the mantra of “fake it ’til you make it,” which sometimes works out, but can also set them on the path to failure. Make sure your preferred candidate is a strong fit for the job and your company’s culture before you hire them.

Another reason for poor performance is inadequate training, failure to clearly communicate goals, or an unwillingness to adjust management styles for different employees. These generally come down to poor communication or lack of adaptability. For example, some workers may respond better to emails, while others may prefer visual instructions for a given project or assignment.

Finally, it’s important that managers motivate their staff in order to get the best out of them. This doesn’t mean micromanaging their every move or leading them in group chants; you simply need to make sure they’re being challenged and doing work that’s meaningful to them. Sometimes it helps to switch up their workload so they’re not performing the same task each and every day (boredom can lead to poor work performance).

Essentially, you want to ask under-performers what you can do to help them achieve their goals and the goals of the company.

Offer constructive feedback early and often

When an employee falters or is on a downward trajectory with the quality of their work, you need to step in sooner rather than later. Don’t wait for a scheduled performance review or the end of a probationary period. For one, early (and positive) intervention will give them the tools they need to right the ship. Maybe it was just a minor communication breakdown or they needed additional training or support but were too shy to ask.

Also, having a record of these interactions (including both feedback and opportunities to improve) will help make your case should you need to terminate them. If you abruptly decide to let someone go without this process, the termination will be more stressful for everyone involved and would be more likely to end in a protracted grievance process or even litigation.

Feedback and periodic check-ins also could be part of your regular performance reviews. You certainly don’t want to cram the night before the review because you failed to keep records throughout the review period.

Terminate employees with dignity

So it didn’t work out. Not everything in life does, but it’s still important to treat departing employees with dignity and respect. Before you show them the door, though, are you certain you gave them opportunities to turn it around? This is not only fair to the employee, but it’s also the least costly solution for your company. If all else fails, when you tell them (privately) that you’re terminating their employment, you’ll want to briefly discuss why they were fired using these earlier interventions as context.

In most cases, termination is a highly emotional experience and can leave employees feeling angry, confused, and bewildered. They also may have a lot of questions. You need to expect that, but don’t be overcome by your emotions. Your job is to manage your team, so be respectful but also firm. It will also help morale if your employees know you’re fair but also decisive.

Minimize poor work performance by drafting the right candidates

No matter how well prepared you are as a manager, sooner or later you’ll have to deal with poor performance. However, there are steps you can take to minimize this, especially during the hiring process. Increase your home runs and reduce your errors by staying connected with Monster. With access to free business analysis and insights, including expert recruiting and management tips, you’ll be able to run your company with an all-star team.