How to deal with an underperforming employee

How to deal with an underperforming employee

Satyanarayana Kasturi, Head – Group IT, Ashok Piramal Group, shares tips on how leaders can tackle the weakest link.

“A leader’s team is his backbone,” says Satyanarayana Kasturi, Head – Group IT, Ashok Piramal Group. “Only if the team performs will the leader survive. So it’s important leaders master performance management.” Here, Mr Kasturi shares how leaders can effectively deal with employees whose performance isn’t up to snuff.

Clearly identify the problem areas
“There could be several reasons why a person is underperforming. They could be struggling with different issues that could be technical, functional, skill-based or even personal. Are they too rooted in their comfort zone? Technology is constantly changing, so do they need a skills upgrade? Has their job profile been changed without consulting them? Are they grappling with a personal problem? So the first step is to engage and make a genuine effort to identify the real issue or the root cause. This will help you understand whether you have the resources to help the struggling employee.”

Coach them
“Personal interaction is a must in such a situation. As a leader you need to provide support and guidance to bring them up to par. Use the experience you have gained over the years to counsel them and identify behaviours that need to be eliminated and aspects that need to be strengthened. Rather than demanding good performance, encourage it. Are there any organisational resources that can aid them? Talk to HR about organising training programs that enhance employee skills. Organise comprehensive training programs for new hires so that they gain a better understanding of their department and systems and processes used.”

Harness employee strengths
“It’s possible the person has been placed in a role that isn’t suited to his/her strengths. So take the time to find out the ground reality. Does their role on the team match their skills? If not, then it’s the unsuitable profile that is making them a weak link. Have an open discussion with them about situation and evaluate whether their situation needs to change. A key part of a leader’s role is to understand how best to use all resources, especially team members.”

Acknowledge successes and show appreciation
“Timely appreciation is key to boosting morale, increasing employee motivation and therefore performance. Don’t take employees’ performance for granted. Be genuine in your appreciation and do it in the right spirit. It’s also a great way to encourage good employee behaviours. Give regular feedback to show your support and illustrate that they’re on the right track.”

Open communication is key
“A leader needs to engage in continuous dialogue with his/her team. This takes dedicated effort and time. It should be a free open communication channel so that employees can approach their leader to discuss issues. In the case of underperforming employees find out how they perceive their performance. Do they have any solutions in mind? What do they think could be done differently to get them on track? Keep the discussion focussed on their performance, don’t pass judgement or criticise behaviours.”