Strategies to manage poor employee performance

Rose Muthoni @rosemuthoniN

A small business often thrives and grows because of inputs from star employees. Every successful start-up has several employees that make it tick. They share the employer’s dream and work tirelessly towards it. But employees are human too. For an array of reasons, even employees you had for the longest time and who are highly productive can experience a performance slump at some point.

By all means, do not fire them before you put in the effort to remedy the situation. There may not be an obvious way to deal with the problem but trust me, hiring and training new employees will take up more energy and resources than the energy you will need to turn the situation around. Tailor these strategies to your situation, figure out what is happening and take action.

Find out if your employee is okay

Before you decide that your employee is tired of the job or he simply does not care, it is important to find out whether there is something going on that you should know. It is wrong to assume that you understand this individual’s current circumstances and reactions. It will help if you already know his or her personal situation, for example, if they have a sickly child, if they have a terminal illness or whether they are going through divorce. Perhaps the employee is dealing with a new and challenging circumstance that is distracting.

Your approach to the query is just as important as finding out what is wrong. The Entrepreneur, a key source of stories about entrepreneurship, small business management, and business,  suggests that you use your evidence to get to the bottom of things.

In that case, it can help to share your evidence: “I was wondering if everything is okay. I noticed that you stopped or started doing X, and I figured I should better check in with you about it.”

Lookout for stress and burnout

Working on a new business is not easy. Both the founder and employees have to put in a lot of hours to see the business take off. Coupled with this, a start-up presents too many changes as it grows to new heights.

It is important to check on the workload that you place on each employee’s shoulder. You might be complaining that so and so is not pulling his weight only to find out you have placed too much work on their plate. Hiring someone to help out might be all you need to change the situation. Once your star employee has extra hands, they will become resilient and more even-keeled.

Probe for changes in the employee’s job

Sometimes an employee performing badly is purely our fault. Your secretary might not disburse emails as fast as she used to because her computer is broken down. Perhaps their budget has been slashed or maybe one of your clients is sucking out all your staff’s energy. It is important to ask yourself, what environment you have created for your employees to thrive. Being able to pinpoint at which point exactly their performance began will help you diagnose the problem.

Set the terms

A small business is tricky. Sometimes the employee handling the warehouse is the same one handling sales. As the business grows, however, it is important that your employees specialise. Do not assume that your employee knows their job description if you have never spelt it out for them. At the very start or during a change in position, tell them exactly what you expect of them. Be prudent and ask what they expect from you as well. Along the way, if your staff’s performance dwindles, revisit your expectations of them. The Entrepreneur also suggests that you talk about how the business, team or customers are affected when it is lacking. Make sure you give them quarterly feedback on their performance to help them improve.

Provide meaningful recognition.

Believe it or not, recognition is more effective motivation compared to inspiration, autonomy and even pay. It does not have to be expensive or time-consuming.

If you were to walk into shops of some of the more established companies in the country, you will notice a huge photo of employee of the month on their noticeboards. Just imagine how you would have felt if you received this kind of recognition when you were an employee and reciprocate it in your business.

Excellent performers can lose momentum or be stalled by circumstances from time to time. The secret is in intervening early. Whatever you do, do not wait to do this. If you wait until you are fed up with either the person or whatever is going wrong, you will find it much harder to turn the situation around.

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