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5 steps for turning around low performers

How to manage a low performer

With tight corporate budgets echoing tough economic times, it’s never been more important to ensure that all of your employees are productive members of the team. So what should managers do when they find low performers among the ranks? Here are five tested steps from Elaine Earle, an instructor in the University of Phoenix MBA program, to help turn around slackers:


Give specific examples of the problems.

The first step, Earle says, is to sit down with low performers and detail how they aren’t measuring up to expectations.

“Many managers are reluctant to confront someone,” Earle says, “but the truth is, you are doing them a favor by talking with them. Most people who don’t perform well are miserable in their jobs.”


Determine if it’s a “will” or “skill” problem.

It’s critical to figure out if employees are falling short because of inability or lack of drive. Earle suggests asking slackers what coaching is needed in order to succeed. If someone is lacking skills, that person will identify something that’s needed, and be relieved that someone cares.

If low performers are unable to identify their weaknesses, that means they have a “will” problem, explains Earle, who also worked in project management for AT&T.

“If they say, ‘I don't need anything extra; I just need to pay attention to the work I’m doing,’ that should be a red flag to any manager that they are dealing with someone lacking in will, who might not be willing to change.”


Create a plan.

Once an employee spells out areas where assistance is needed, devise a personal development plan that targets no more than four areas of improvement and details the method of assistance, such as one-on-one coaching, training sessions or reading materials. Specify concrete target dates two to four weeks out on which you’ll check the employee’s progress.

If you determine that an employee is lacking will, you can follow the same methods. Chances are, however, the person may never improve, Earle says, and you may end up suggesting that the low performer find a more suitable job.


Make them accountable for their work.

One critical piece of turning around slackers is giving them responsibility and ownership of the work they are doing. “I always believe that people want to be viewed in the best light,” Earle says.

If people know their work is being reviewed on a daily basis, they are more likely to hit their targets, or become frustrated and quit.


Recognize their achievements.

After a low performer’s work has been reviewed, and targets have been sustained for the agreed-to period, remember to recognize the accomplishment, Earle encourages.

“Document it in their file. Tell them directly that you recognize their efforts and that they should be proud of themselves, and write a thank-you card praising them on a personal level.”

People want to be recognized, Earle says. “It’s human nature.”

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