HR Leads Business

Aug 30, 2019 | Clare Chiappetta

The Underperformer: How to Get More from an Employee

There have been revolutions in performance reviews and management in recent years, and annual performance reviews are becoming less common. Companies like Amazon are investing in responsive performance software — although whether these programs work is up for debate. So what’s the happy medium?

Performance problems require a strong, but gentle touch. Your HR team can help determine what that looks like for your organization, but there are certain requisite elements.

“It's important — and incumbent on HR — to provide a framework for the organization to be able to succeed,” says Todd Horton, CEO of KangoGift. “There should be communication channels in place for not just managers but employees across the organization to reach out to HR, whether they have a problem or just need help clarifying what is expected of them.”

Here are three ways HR can support employees and managers in resolving underperformance.

Clarify Definitions and Expectations

Employees often are operating under outdated or unclear job descriptions. HR can work with departmental leaders to revamp and clarify what’s expected of each employee. “Revisit the job description to make sure it clearly articulates what that job role is in the organization and how it ties to the bigger goals,” Horton says. “Make sure employees know not only what is expected of them, but also how their success will be measured.”

And when it comes to the definition of underperformance, HR, managers and employees must all be on the same page. HR can facilitate those conversations and coach leaders through the process. “Managers and leaders aren't always trained on coaching and leadership,” says Susan Power, founder and CEO of Power HR. “Sometimes they just don't have those difficult conversations with employees to understand the root cause of low performance, and they just assume the employee is not able to do the job.”

Approach the Problem Together

Correcting underperformance has to be collaborative — after all, there are at least two parties involved. In all likelihood the employee wants the issue resolved as well. “Communicate to the employee that you've observed a change in work over the recent month or so,” Horton says. “But don’t just leave it there — let the employee then speak first, if it's something they agree with. And if they do, the manager can then ask ‘What can I do to help you address it?’ "

These openings give managers the chance to handle the issue before it becomes explosive or accusatory. “A lot of managers start right in and declare, ‘There's a performance issue. We need to get to the bottom of it,’ ” Power says. “They might need to have that conversation at some point, but to start with that is not the right approach. Managers should check in with employees in a way that is supportive, like by asking them some open-ended questions.”

Coach Managers to Be Supportive

HR can offer coaching resources directed toward each manager’s specific needs. These don’t necessarily have to be in-house sources; there are subscription services for needs-based micro-learning. “The goal is to expand [managers’] mindsets and ask them questions that get them thinking about things in a different way,” Power says. “This will change their behaviors and their outcomes and help them become more effective as managers.”

Managers need to learn how to support employees as a preventive measure. Underperformance is less likely to occur if employees have the support they need. And if an issue can’t be resolved by redefining roles or providing extra support, it doesn’t mean you have to pull termination paperwork right away — maybe that role just isn’t the right fit for the employee.

“There are so many things that could be contributing to it that termination isn't always the only solution,” Power says. “Sometimes a transfer, a different role or a lateral move makes all the difference. There are many different options.”