How to manage underperforming employees

March 11, 2018

One of the most common questions I receive from junior engineering managers is what to do when they have underperforming employees in their team.

1. Be specific!

When you believe an employee is underperforming, it’s usually a result of your observation of their work. Remember, at this point it’s only your BELIEVE – not a fact! The best first step you can take is to reflect upon yourself and identify exactly what it is that made you think that an employee is underperforming.

  • Is it just a feeling/hunch?
  • Are you receiving reports or complaints from other employees?
  • Are they making a lot of mistakes?
  • Are they asking for too much help?
  • Are they not completing enough tasks (or closing enough tickets)?

2. Identify the cause

Once you’ve identify the specific observation that resulted in you believing that the employee is underperforming, the next step is identify why you’re able to make that observation. For this part, you may need to work the employee in question to identify the potential cause.

  • Are you assigning too much to the employee?
  • Are you assigning tasks that are outside of the employee’s area of expertise?
  • Are your performance expectations and the employee’s aligned?
  • Is the employee spending too much time on a task (trying to do things too perfectly)?
  • Does the employee often forget to mark tickets/tasks as complete?
  • Does the employee often forget to log their work?

At this phase, I would highly recommend against framing the conversation to be a “performance” conversation. Instead, bring this up as a concern during your next regularly-scheduled 1-1.

3. Work with the employee

Everyone works differently. There’s no one-size fits all solution to raising an employee’s performance. The best action you can take is to work together with the employee to find out what they think is the best course of action for them to take.

Sometimes, second chance is all they need to prove themselves. Sometimes, things just don’t work out. Your task, as their manager, is to recognize if things are working or if things aren’t.

Ryan Harijanto

Head of Engineering. Former Sr. Engineer @Netflix , @HotelTonight , @Shutterstock. Previously a Senior Systems Engineer at Netflix, currently technology advisor and board member for emerging companies. Diverse technological knowledge and understanding of various industries.

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