Tips for coaching underperforming employees
Wednesday, 26 August 2020
A solid flow of capital and an in-demand product are not the only important components of a company's success.
Another key element for a business's profitability is possessing (and retaining) a productive, skilled and creative workforce that performs at their peak. Motivating employees and ensuring they are maximizing their potential can be a difficult balancing act, especially if a business is plagued by under-performing employees. Not only do underachieving workers reduce overall business productivity, they can also significantly affect a company's culture in negative ways.
“Companies rely on teamwork and collaboration," says executive career coach Ravi Raman. “One under-performing employee doesn't just affect their own work, they affect all the projects and tasks that they touch. In the same way that one weak link can break a chain, a small group of under-performing workers can slow down production, increase errors and cause an entire company to break down…A few unhappy workers can spread confusion and distrust throughout an organization, impacting morale."
Furthermore, while it may seem counter-intuitive, under-performing employees can also have a powerful impact on an organization's top performing talent. “The main cause of low morale is feeling a lack of control and top performers like to control what they can," says communication strategist Laurie Richards. “If their high performance is being hindered by other's underperformance or other's poor performance (or lack of performance) they may lower their standards and become bored with a lack of stimulation. Retention becomes an issue. Top performers may decide to go to a different company, somewhere they feel appreciated, nurtured and pushed to further develop their abilities."
Clearly, taking a thoughtful, pro-active approach to improving employee performance not only increases individual and overall company output; it's also key to motivating and retaining top talent—the linchpins in any organization's success. Here are some performance management tips that can help transform ho-hum human resources into professional powerhouses.
Carefully assess performance gaps
The first step to managing underperformance is to do a careful assessment of where an individual's performance is lagging. While it's always helpful to get feedback from an employee's manager, it's important to have a non-confrontational, one-on-one talk with the individual as well. They may well know—and even be equally frustrated—with their sub-par performance and may offer some insight into what is impeding their work.
Clearly define expectations
Sometimes an employee may not have a clear understanding of what is expected of them and they may merely need precisely defined deliverables to reach their potential. “Does your employee know what great work looks like? Do they have clear deadlines for projects and specific tasks? When the goal is clear, it's much easier to know if the performance bar is being met. It's not just the employees job to set clear goals, managers play a crucial role in properly framing the work to be done and what great work looks like," says Raman.
Set measurable goals
No amount of skills coaching is going to work if employees don't take ownership of their flaws and their role in the company. One of the best ways to get people excited about challenging themselves to improve is to give them some power over their own professional progress. “Ask all talent to set individual measurable goals with a specific plan of action how to reach those goals," says Richards. “Get each person's input. They should set the goal with the boss's stamp of approval. The more input they have, the more buy-in you'll get. And the more likely they are to reach those goals."
Once an underperforming employee's gaps have been assessed and they have a detailed understanding of their position's requirements, a good way to rev up their work skills is with a mentoring program. Pairing high performers with those who are struggling helps hone weaker workers skills under the tutelage of an expert. It can also have a positive effect on the morale of a company because it increases camaraderie and collaboration. “Great careers aren't built in isolation. If someone is underperforming, it's crucial to make sure the person is aligned with someone (or several people) who can provide guidance to improve their situation—beyond just their manager. Most people naturally find mentors over the long-term in a job. However, managers should proactively identify people that can serve as mentors early on in an employee's career. Mentors provide crucial insights and support, without fear of being judged," insists Raman.
Follow up regularly
To ensure the struggling employee does not get off track, it's crucial to track their development and manage their performance. “Agree to a specific check-in schedule and hold them accountable," suggests Richards. “Let the employee put the schedule together and share it with the employer early in the process. If the boss creates the schedule, it's micro-managing; but letting the staff member own it will help motivate them. Also be very clear about the rewards and ramifications of reaching the goals they've set and let them know you are available as a resource."
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