Ask the Expert – Underperforming Employees

“I have an underperforming employee in my franchise who is well liked by other people. I should let her go, but I am afraid of undermining morale among my other employees. How do I handle this challenge?”

– J.K., Toronto, Ontario

It is important to recognize that any employee who is underperforming is bringing down your entire company. Even though she might be well liked, other people do not like the fact that they have to pick up the slack to make up for what she is not doing. They might not be saying that, but I will bet that is how they feel.

Ultimately, it is not worth keeping someone who is well liked if they are not performing. You want a culture of excellence within your business. Ultimately, every company has the responsibility to train and improve employees if possible. So as an employer, part of your job is to understand the reasons why this worker is falling short, and to see if there are reasonable steps you can take to improve her performance.

What can the reasons be? Sometimes underperforming is a matter of skills not fitting – she is in the wrong job. If that is the case, is there another role in the company that she could fit? If so, your problem is easily solved. Is the problem that she doesn’t have the skills or knowledge to do the job? If so, training could solve the problem. The issue could also be that she isn’t properly motivated and doesn’t understand the expectations for the job. In that case, take a close look at how her supervisors are conducting her performance reviews and evaluating what she does. You need to make sure your company has communicated your expectations.

My belief is that you never want employees to be fired and to have that come as a surprise, because that means that you, as a manager, did a terrible job managing them. As an employer, it is your job to understand the reason people are underperforming and to look for ways to help them improve.

And what if you decide to move ahead and terminate the worker? You need to document the reasons and communicate them to that employee during job reviews and regular check-in meetings. You should set out specific areas where you expect her to improve and specify dates by which you expect those improvements to happen. You don’t want her to be terminated and to then be able to say, “I didn’t know anything was wrong . . . nobody told me.”  And if the employee is popular, you don’t want other employees to say, “The company made no effort to help her.” You want everyone in the company to know that you made every reasonable effort to try to help that worker improve.

But the bottom line is, you don’t want to keep people forever just because they are well liked. That will only send a signal to everyone that they don’t have to do their jobs. The big issue is not the performance of one person; it is the acceptance of a culture of underperformance. Everyone needs to perform and as a franchise owner or executive it is your job to make sure that is the case. That’s how you have a healthy team and a successful enterprise. 

Evan Hackel is a 35-year franchising veteran as both a franchisor and franchisee. He is CEO of Tortal Training, a leading training development company in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Principal and Founder of Ingage Consulting in Woburn, Massachusetts. Evan is the host of Training Unleashed and author of Ingaging Leadership. Evan speaks on Seeking Excellence, Better Together, Ingaging Leadership and Attitude is Everything. To hire Evan as a speaker, visit Follow @ehackel.

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