The Underperforming Employee

Dear Anne:

My new hire has a strong résumé and a sort of goodness that makes me feel I’m in the presence of a saint. He’s really that nice. You can guess the problem: his work product is below standard. He doesn’t fully follow specs, doesn’t fully meet the specs he does follow, and completes them after deadline. Asking him to redo the project is problematic, because he will improve it, but it takes awhile. Whether coached or confronted, he’s very, very nice. What do I do with this guy?

Dear Saintly Witness:

Work: It's Personal by Anne Giles ClellandThe problem with underperforming, deadline-missing employees is common and frustrating.  When they’re surly, how to proceed seems clearer than when they’re very, very nice.

When we see someone underperform at work, the natural tendency is for us to assume he or she has a work problem.  Probably not.  People tend to be consistent and the odds are good your saint is subpar at work, at home, and as a citizen. 

Regardless of the historical or psychological reasons for your employee’s inability to fulfill your expectations, he’s ultimately supposed to make money for your company.  Time you spend tending him is time you could spend making money yourself or mentoring someone who could.

If your employee is capable of growth, and he may or may not be, people often achieve insights through experiencing the consequences of their actions or inactions.  Withholding natural consequences from the people in our lives compromises us and robs them of a chance to grow.  Set a standard and a deadline.  If he doesn’t meet it, and he’s predictably consistent, he’ll be very, very nice about you letting him go to grow.


Need help with a personal problem at work? E-mail your question to Anne Giles Clelland at [email protected].

Please include the subject line "Workplace Advice." Anne regrets that not all questions can be answered, personal replies are not possible, and questions may be edited for brevity and clarity.

Valley Business FRONT's Workplace Advice Column, written by Handshake 2.0's Anne Giles Clelland, appears monthly in Valley Business FRONT and in the collection Work: It's Personal. A version of this column first appeared in the February, 2009 issue.

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