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How Do You Handle Under-performers?

By M. Dana Baldwin, Senior Consultant

Strategic Planning Expert

Have you ever had the situation in your company in which employees who seemed to have good skills, knowledge and capabilities simply were not performing anywhere near their potential?  What happened to them?  Were they kept in their current position for a long period of time?  Were they terminated or transferred within the company?  Or did someone take an interest in them and change their situation so they could do much better?

When someone is under-performing, there are at least three possible outcomes.  First, you might just terminate their employment or they might quit out of frustration and attitude degeneration.  In either case, the problem with this is that the individual may be a good employee who is simply in the wrong place within the company.  By letting them go, you lose the investment you have made to hire and train them, not to mention possible future contributions this person may make when they are put into a position which is a better fit.  If you take the time to find out why they are under-performing, and determine where might be a better fit, you may well be able to help both the individual and the company.

The second outcome is that you might “promote” them to another area of the company, getting rid of the problem in your area.  The obvious difficulty with this action is that the reasons for under-performance will not have been addressed and the consequent under-performing may not change.  Now you have simply passed on the problem to someone else, with little or no indication to the new supervisor that this person may need some guidance or mentoring to become more productive.

The message sent by doing either of the above is that the company doesn’t really care about individuals, and is not willing to make the effort to help people adapt and grow.  It may be perceived as a lack of leadership as well.  None of this is lost on the other employees, who most often know what is going on with the particular individual who is not performing well.

The third outcome is that you address the problem of under-performance directly with the person, taking the time to find out why their performance is not up to par.  Often, it can be not having the person in the right position within the company.  Actively mentoring and seeking a solution, can usually make everyone a contributor and winner.  By doing this, you are sending a message to everyone that every person is worthy of your making an investment of time and effort.  Setting an atmosphere of support and effective leadership should pay off handsomely in the long run with a triple win–for the individual, for you, the leader, and for the company.

M. Dana Baldwin is a Senior Consultant with Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc. and can be reached at baldwin@cssp.com.

© Copyright 2011 by Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc., Ann Arbor, MI — Reprint permission granted with full attribution.