How Do You Handle An Employee Who’s Not Performing?

When you have a team that’s running on all cylinders, it feels great. Your business hums along and everything is easier. But when you have that one employee who is just not performing, it can put a damper on everything. It’s harder to get momentum going for your business. Your confidence as a leader drops, which means you don’t close deals like you used to. It affects everything.

So what do you do? How do you handle that underperforming team member? We asked several business owners to see what their approach would be.

Assess the Situation

“I like to sit down with the employee to establish what the situation is. I point out the problem, offer words of encouragement, and let them know the business is counting on them. We are interested in their success and want to help, not just drive their performance numbers. I ascertain if there is something more they need from us and give them time to remedy the situation. Finally, I make a decision one way or the other. Prolonging this situation affects the morale of other employees.”

–       Jim Newton, Philip James Salon

“It depends on the employee. First, we would look and try to see why they are not performing. If it is because they do not understand what is expected of them, their manager would review what is expected of them. Sometimes an employee needs a review and they become an asset to our company. Sometimes an employee does not work out in one department, but can work somewhere else, so if that is the case, we will give them a try answering phones or working in the store. If all else fails, sometimes an employee is just not a good fit for the company. If that is the case, it is better for both the employee and the employer to part ways sooner rather than later. Although it is not pleasant, eventually, it is better to do the right thing for your company and for the employee.”

–       David Cohen, Moshells

Ensure They Have the Tools to Succeed

“My first inclination is reflection…have I provided the employee with the proper orientation, training, information to achieve the objective? If not, I make every effort to rectify the situation. If this isn’t the case, I speak opening and candidly with the employee, set dates with deliverables and monitor progress.”

–       Mary Rownd, Interactive Project Manager, HIMSS

“Coach them. When someone is not performing, my first question is always to myself. “Have I trained them, given them all the tools and time to be successful?”  Only after I have satisfied these questions will I consider a performance plan to set targets to help get them back on track.”

–       Jeff Purtell, Chief Operating Officer, Acquirent

Prioritize Communication

“Communication between employees and supervisors is always key in having a solid working relationship; doing it well gives the manager an opportunity to inspire and lead a team. At InterCall, we have a workforce that is all over the world, so oftentimes, employees and their supervisors are not in the same office. We use tools like audio, video and web conferencing, along with web cams, to put faces to names and voices. It really helps to establish and build a rapport, which enhances performance and allows you to do more coaching.”

–       Rob Bellmar, Senior Vice President, Conferencing and Collaboration, InterCall


So, there are several approaches to handling an underperforming employee from business owners across industries. How do you handle it? What’s been effective for you?


About the Author:  Brad Farris is the founder of EnMast, a community of business owners committed to being better leaders and growing better businesses. He is also principal advisor of Anchor Advisors, with experience leading businesses & business owners into new levels of growth and success. Through his work with over 100 Chicago area small businesses he has experience in guiding founders and business owners through the pitfalls and joys of growing their business. Connect with him on Google+, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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Biron Clark @CareerSidekick

I think the approach should be customized to fit the individual. Different people respond well to different types of motivation and different managerial approaches. This is the manager’s challenge.

These tips are helpful no matter what the situation involves though. Establishing clear communication and setting expectations is key, as is ensuring that you provide each employee with the tools he/she needs to succeed.

Great thought-provoking article overall. I enjoyed it.

David Moakler

Many times it not related to work at all. Employees unfortunately bring their personal baggage to work with them. Did you know that 25% of your coworkers are dealing with money troubles at home? Its not your fault, they have not managed their finances wisely and they are going from crisis to crisis. Below is a link to a printable poster you can hang on the break room wall.
From the poster employees can discreetly find resources for financial assistance provided by gov’t agencies and not for profits.

Walter Sasiadek

1st, It stems from the point of hire. Review your hiring criteria, interview formats and use scorecards for systematic evaluation.

2nd, Review your “Orientation” protocols. What is it supposed to accomplish? Most orientations are worthless. They lack letting employees know specifically what the job expectations are and specifically what they need to do to get raises, promotions and bonuses.

3rd, Ask the employee what they aren’t doing what needs to be done to the level required. We as managers may find out something we need to know that’s been missing or falling short. If it’s on the employee, tell them they have a week to correct it or they’ll need to move on.

I believe in getting our house in order first and then move on to employee development.


First, check the employee’s performance in the past. If it was very good until recently then personal one on one meeting is required. Find the source of the problem. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to check –carefully – with other colleagues the recent changes in this particular employee’s behaviour and habits – If applicable.

Second, chose your toolset wisely in accordance with the situation. For example coaching, training for a well-seasoned but fatigued, overworked employee may not the best way. He/she may feel you try to put even more burden on him/her.

Third thing is motivation. Find the most effective way to motivate him/her so he/she can move to the direction of better performance. Provide goals that he/she can achieve by better performance. (Threatening the employee say being fired won’t work out well, trust me…)

Fourth section is to follow up with him/her. When you ask him/her “How is it going?” then you should mean it and listen to the answer. If necessary and still no changes then you may need to start the whole procedure from the beginning. (Obviously it cannot run to the eternity.)

If your toolset is ineffective and you exhausted every option that you know of then don’t be shy and ask for advice. Don’t give up on an employee just because he/she is not an easy task to deal with using ‘have no time for this…’ excuse. (As a manager/leader you need to deal with human beings as well as with the business.)

Anat Jonsson

First of all, we have to find out what is going on with him, why is not motivated? a communication, is very important with the employees, may be his not qualified for the post? there for we have to send him for a training. If all of this does not work, send him to another department where he can feet.


In many such cases, it has been found that employee has been deployed in a department where his actual skills were never put to use.It is a prerogative to identify the skills set of human resources before being posted to departments.If a mistaken was done already, then it is time that is rectified. For sure, the employee deserves a chance to prove himself.


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