How to Turn a Poor Performer Around

An employer who is troubled because an employee’s “not doing her job up to par” asks this question:

Q. This employee is dragging her feet, just not doing her job up to par. Other employees are having to pick up some of the load and they’re unhappy about it.  She’s been with us 15 years and until about a year ago she was doing good work.  But in the last year she’s really been slacking off.  I’ve talked to her about this but it hasn’t done any good.  What can I do to get her to do her job like she used to?

A. What’s kept you from knowing the cause or causes of her poor performance?  You say you’ve talked to her.  But have you talked with her?  Have you clearly described to her the way or ways her performance is sub-par?  Have you asked her to explain what she feels or believes is causing the change?  Has she developed poor health challenges? Is she on medication that affects her performance?  Is she having personal pressures in her private life that preoccupy her at work?

Until you have answers to questions like these, until you listen to her, you can’t hope to make the best decisions about her future with you.  Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Document in writing her under-performance.  Write down, with exact or approximate dates, specific examples and descriptions of her behavior that is sub-par or where she is falling short of expected performance.
  2. Meet with her in a friendly, non-confrontational manner.  Tell her clearly what you have written out about her performance.  Encourage her to talk with you about what she believes or feels could be causing this.
  3. Discuss with her what she can do, and what you (and your business) can do so that her performance will change for the better.  Let her know of your willingness to give her reasonable help and reasonable accommodation so she will again do well.
  4. Actually write out an agreement in which you spell out the expected performance, what each of you (and your business) will be doing to make it happen, the time frame for change to occur and what the consequences (lower pay, demotion or termination) will be for her if the change does not occur.
  5. Follow through with the consequences if she does not improve her performance.

Note: The most important job of a workplace leader is to make the tough decisions.  The toughest decisions often are the decisions involving correction, discipline and termination of employees.  The best way to deal with these difficult situations is to make the tough decisions and then move on.

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