By: Nicole NelsonHow To Manage and Fire Underachievers

Having to manage and fire underachievers is one of those things every business contends with. It is extremely important to manage low performers proactively, particularly the chronic ones. You will need to fire them as soon as it’s clear things are not turning around. It’s that simple. But because this is easier said than done, we are going to dig in to this topic to try to find clarity with assessing the issue.

Let’s start with the realities. Chronic underachievers will breed contempt, resentment, and frustration in your workplace. They will waste time, resources, and opportunities. In addition, they will encourage distrust in management if team members see nothing is being done to remedy the situation. Lastly, they will likely cost you customers. YOU SIMPLY CANNOT AFFORD TO SETTLE FOR LOUSY EMPLOYEES. 

Even so, there is more to consider than the person or people that are underperforming. They are part of a system. If this is an issue that you are faced with often, it could be rooted in morale or workplace issues. Often times, problems are salvageable with a comprehensive approach. Incompetency in management tends to filter down to the staff they manage either in performance issues or hindered morale.

Make Sure Your Managers are Leaders

It is important as you build a management team to make sure those entrusted with managing others are fully versed in leadership. Leadership is a far more effective method of managing others than flat out managing. Leadership inspires others to give their best. It fosters trust, projects a positive outlook about work, and extends appreciation to every single person in the organization.

Before you promote anyone to a management role, make sure they have proven competency with what this responsibility will require. Send them to trainings, conferences, or workshops regarding how to lead others. Make sure they interview for the role. Consider hiring externally if you don’t have an internal candidate that is ready to manage others.

Having competent managers is one of the most important parts of preventing workplace issues.

We love this infographic by resourcefulmanager.com outlining this topic.

Intervene Early and Focus on Strengths

You should absolutely never fire someone before you have warned them and given them a chance to succeed. As soon as you notice that your employee is not delivering, intervene with a positive approach. Mention something they do well.

Try approaching the issue with the question “What do you need?” rather than something accusatory. Assume the very best about the person’s intentions. Not only will you likely get a more honest response, it will increase the odds of turning the situation around.

Offer advice by saying “This is what I know has worked for myself and some of our other top performers.” Be hands on about helping the individual. Even if you have to let them go eventually, it will feel better knowing you gave them a chance and approached it positively.

Intervene With a Coaching Process

Just as you need a sales process and a hiring process, you need a defined process to coach underachievers. It should include a timeline for turning numbers around and a cutoff date for letting them go if they don’t. Allow a top employee act as a mentor. Give smaller attainable goals during this period and praise them for accomplishing them. Attitude and the feeling of success have a lot to do with how a person feels about their potential. Make sure to approach it from a positive angle.

Give them fair warning that if they don’t turn it around, you will have to let them go. Not only does this provide extra motivation, it makes the process transparent and fosters trust. Blindsiding someone is not necessary nor is it best practice.

Dial In the Interview Process

Hiring the right person for the role is paramount in avoiding issues with performance. Make sure to check references thoroughly. Have an organized and detailed interview process. Explain the job and design questions that are reflective of the actual role. Pay attention to details like whether they seem prepared and how they present themselves.

This is a great blog about how to have a successful interview process.

Set Hires Up For Success

Make no mistake that having an organized training and onboarding system will pay off. It is only fair that new recruits understand expectations, their role, have the proper resources and tools, and understand how to succeed. Everyone loses when the odds are unfairly stacked against success. Look at any gaps that currently exist in these processes and focus on straightening them out.

how to manage underachievers

Respect Privacy and Discourage Gossip

Sharing an employee’s struggles with coworkers is a big morale killer. Not only does it reduce trust in management, it also creates a fear-based environment of avoiding humiliation. Make sure to respect employees by keeping their intervention and whatever they are going through confidential.

Lead by example and hold your office to a standard of not gossiping. Gossip pits employees against each other and breeds toxicity.

Learn How To Fire People And Have the Right Person Do It

For some managers, it is tempting to find the easiest way to fire someone and avoid the situation. But it needs to be a forthright ethical meeting conducted by the appropriate person. Understand what is legal and what is not before firing anyone. Make sure your employee has enough time to improve after being warned about underperforming.

Firing is a vulnerable moment for most people so regardless of personal feelings, treat the employee being fired with courtesy and professionalism.

It is unrealistic to think they won’t be emotional in some way. Have the expectation they will be and be willing to listen within reason. Be firm and try not to be emotional yourself.

This is a great article about how to fire by Forbes.

In summary, giving your employees a fair shot to improve is the most efficient practice. Fire as a last resort but do it as soon as it is necessary to avoid further issues.