How to motivate an employee who is underperforming

While a manager’s job is to ensure that tasks get done, it is his or her employees that make the real difference to productivity. All managers will suffer from underperforming employees occasionally. If the underperformance is because of inability, then the method to help the employee improve is by coaching or training. Productivity should improve accordingly. However, if it is because of a lack of engagement with the job, you will need to know how to motivate an employee who is underperforming. How do you sell engagement to a demotivated employee?

The big stick approach does not foster stronger employee engagement

Individual performance within a team is crucial to team performance. While the team can hide underperformance of one of its members, it is not likely to be tolerated for an extended period. When a team member is demotivated to work to their full potential and stretch their personal goals, the outcome can be destructive to the team.

The approach taken by many managers when confronted with this situation is the ‘big stick’ – improve or be fired. But this approach doesn’t instill trust in the manager or organization, and it doesn’t address underperformance of a previously good employee. The result is losing a good employee, and often the hearts and minds of the team.

A more creative approach is needed when constructing a strategy to deliver the answer to how to motivate an employee who is underperforming. A softer, more holistic approach that requires a manager to treat the cause of demotivation rather than the symptom.

Step #1: Learn the cause of demotivation

If you have noticed a reduction in performance, it is important that you learn the cause behind it. To tackle a problem, you must first understand it.

Be prepared for a shock. A 2013 Gallup study found that the primary cause for employee disengagement was their relationship with their boss. If your employee is suddenly demotivated, the reason could be you.

However, there may also be other, more complex reasons. Disputes with other employees or issues in their personal life may cloud judgement and lead to demotivation.

Step #2: Carefront, don’t confront

Whatever the demotivating issue, you should approach it with objectivity. Anger and frustration will only serve to cause further demotivation, and lead to poor judgment on your part.

Carefronting instead of confronting helps to address a difficult breakdown in communication. People close up when they are confronted – confront the issue, not the person. To get to the root cause and have the level of understanding needed to re-engage the employee in their work, conversations must be open and honest.

Step #3: Learn what motivates the employee

Now that you understand the issue that has led to demotivation, you must learn what motivates the employee to perform. It’s time to discuss their ambitions and goals. It’s also time to reaffirm that you value them and their contribution.

Step #4: Set performance goals with the employee

Discuss with the employee how they can get back on track, and what help they may need to do so. If the problem is in their personal life, time away from work may be needed. It may be that they need coaching in task-specific skills. Offer them the support to overcome their demotivation and get them engaged in their work again.

Ensure that tasks and goals you set together work to move the employee forward in their career. By setting performance goals together, you show that you are buying-in to their professional advancement. By being empathetic, you show that you care.

Step #5: Monitor, recognize, reward

Agree to meet with the employee regularly, to review performance and progress. When performance has met expectations, recognize with praise and reward with appreciation. This will help to motivate and increase confidence – in their own ability and in you as a manager.

Dealing with demotivated employees is one of the most important responsibilities of a manager. It is imperative that you remain objective and communicate openly and honestly. With the right strategy, a good manager can re-engage an employee, lift their morale, and get them back on the right track. Such positive outcomes are good for the individual, good for the team, and good for the manager.

Contact Primeast today to discover how an Emotional Intelligence course will develop and embed effective leadership communication and interpersonal skills, and ensure that your leaders and managers are fully prepared to inspire and motivate.

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