How to Manage an Under-Performer

The new year has started, and that may mean nothing to you or it may mean a ton. For many, the new year brings the feeling of starting a new slate, fresh and clean. You can put the past year in the back of your mind and start this new year off with a sense of excitement of what’s to come. You may make a handful of resolutions, and some of those resolutions may pertain to your career and your work. After all, we do spend the majority of our week at work, right? If you are an employer or manager of a team, then you may look towards improving the way you run things. Perhaps you want to make it a point to show your employees you appreciate them more. Maybe you want to be a motivating factor on your team.

As the leader of your team, how do you get your team motivated like they once were? Do you have some under-performers coming back to the office with a lazy, tired attitude? Before you think about dropping them, you should take a look at some of the things you can do to get them performing at their best again. As part of your new year’s resolution to be a better manager, let’s take a look at what you can do to get your under-performers performing at their best once again.

For starters, it’s very important for you to be able to pinpoint an under-performer on your team. Not only are they not working up to their potential, but their sub-par performance level can easily rub off on other team members- and you as well. That is why you have to be in tune with your team and know the potential you are working with. If you notice that one of your team members- or a couple of them- have started to under-perform then you need to make moves right away. Virginia Merritt, a partner at Stanton Marris states in The Careerist that, “you notice very early on when someone isn’t performing at their best. But it is very easy to rationalize, make excuses and hope that by ignoring a problem it will go away.”

If you are an experienced employer, then you know full well that ignoring a problem will not make it magically go away. Instead, you have to face the problem head on and figure out a way you can fix it. Perhaps this is one of the things that sets a good employer apart from a bad one. A good employer will notice right away when a team member is under-performing and will let that person know that it will not be accepted. Perhaps there is something going on in their personal life and they need a day to get themselves back on track. Perhaps they are fuzzy on their new goals or projects. It could be a plethora of things, but you will never find out unless you approach the issue head on.

It’s important to note that when you approach your under-performer, you are having a conversation and are attempting to understand what is causing them to under-perform. This is where employee engagement comes in. In order to understand what is going on so you can fix it, you must engage with your employee. Being open and honest is best. Let them know that you have noticed their performance level drop. As stated earlier, make it clear that this is not OK. However, try to get to the bottom of it. You can only do this by asking questions. If you are dealing with someone that has always been an under-performer, but you know they are capable of much more, then you may need to give them an idea of what good performance looks like.

Let them know what is expected from a person in their role and what good performance looks like. You can do that by setting goals at first and making sure they reach them. This is where your part comes into play. As an employer, and a good manager, it is on you to set the bar for your employees. They need to know what is expected of them and in one way that comes in the form of goal setting. Make sure that during your conversation with your under-performer that you not only talk about the goals that must be met, but are also writing them down and making them concrete. Set a timeline and hold this person accountable to it. Without doing this, you may just be letting words out into the wind.

It can be difficult to face an under-performer head on, but it must be done. As stated earlier, the problem won’t magically disappear if you pretend it does not exist. A good manager will approach it head on and have that “somewhat-awkward conversation” with their employee because it is necessary. A bad manager will simply let it go on and perhaps fire the employee down the road. As part of the new year, make it a point to motivate your employees and give those under-performers an extra push when need be. In the end, it benefits you both.

Do you work with an under-performer? Do you try to combat it or understand why their performance has dropped off? Share with us in the comments section below!

IMAGE: Courtesy of Flickr by comedy_nose

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About Nicole Nicholson

Nicole is the Content Editor for Spark Hire and mainly writes for and edits the work for the Spark News blog. She graduated in 2010 with a BA in Journalism from DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. She has a passion for writing, editing, and pretty much anything to do with content. In her free time she frequents the Chicago music scene and writes reviews on shows for her own personal blog. Connect with Nicole and Spark Hire on Facebook and Twitter