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5 Standout Ways to Transform Underperformers Into Superb Employees

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Let's say Joe is an accountant approaching his five-year anniversary at his company. But although he's a dedicated employee, he hasn't met his performance goals after switching to a new department in October.

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His boss isn't impressed by his work and wants to remove his monthly bonus.

Many managers struggle with what to do with employees like Joe who have been with a company for some years but now failing to meet expectations. While it's tempting to take away an underperforming employee's responsibilities or bonuses -- or even fire him -- managers need to take a look at the big picture.

With the right guidance and leadership, low-performing employees can be transformed into high performers. Here are five ways:

Related: How to Turn an Underperformer Into an Ideal Employee

1. Identify why someone is a low performer.

To start the process of trying to transform an underperformer into a high achiever, identify why the staffer isn’t meeting performance expectations. Managers must understand the employee's motivation and what's preventing him or her from reaching success.

Every employee has unique needs and desires. In many cases, what motivates an underperformer is different from what influences a high performer. Theories such as Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs and David McClelland's human motivation theory can help managers identify people's underlying motivation.

2. Show the person's value to the company.

Underperformers might miss performance goals because they feel like their position doesn’t contribute to their organization's overall success.

A 2013 Harvard Business Review report, "The Impact of Employee Engagement on Performance," revealed that 70 percent of 550 executives surveyed believed that employees should have an understanding of how their position contributes to the company's overall strategy.

Sit down with the employee and explain why his or her work matters. Provide feedback on how that person's performance affects the company and the way his or her individual results contribute to success.

Related: Banish 'Annual' From Your Performance Review Vocabulary

3. Create clear expectations.

Whether it’s a matter of miscommunication or a lack of guidance, many underperformers don’t realize they are failing to meet expectations.

After making an employee aware of his or her performance, develop clear expectations for moving forward. Outline the person's expected role and responsibilities within the company, offer clear feedback on performance and set measurable, achievable goals.

4. Equip the employee with the needed tools.

An employment and organizational culture study last year by TINYpulse discovered 1 in 4 of more than 200,000 employees surveyed don’t have the tools they need to succeed in the workplace.

Provide underperformers with professional development and skills training opportunities to improve their work. Offer them a mentor who can help with keeping them on track with performance goals.

5. Redesign the company's incentive program.

Tower Watson’s Talent Management and Rewards Study released in 2013 discovered about one-fourth of about 320 North American organizations give bonuses to employees who fail to meet expectations.

Instead of rewarding underperformers, redesign the company’s incentive program to help these employees improve performance. Consider offering  performance-linked bonuses, professional-development opportunities and recognition from management.

A 2013 study by Glassdoor and Harris Interactive, found 4 in 5 employees of more than 2,000 U.S. adults surveyed were motivated to work harder when their boss showed them appreciation.

How do you transform underperformers into high performers?

Related: Stop Delaying: 3 Surefire Ways to Do Employee Reviews Properly

Heather R. Huhman

Written By

Waldorf, Md.-based Heather R. Huhman is a career expert, experienced hiring manager and president of Come Recommended, the PR solution for job search and HR tech companies. She writes about issues impacting the modern workplace.