One of the most challenging aspects that face people in leadership positions is what to do when employees aren’t living up to expectations. The responsibility of getting employees to act in accordance with company plans and policies falls to managers and team leaders, and handling these situations the right way will help you earn the trust and respect of the people under your watch.

Anger and frustration aren’t productive, and they create a toxic and negative work environment. Instead, take a positive and proactive approach which addresses problems at their root and builds towards actionable and effective solutions.

Identify the Cause of the Problem

Communication breakdowns are at the root of many performance issues. They are commonly caused by:

  • Failing to adequately explain the full purpose or critical details of a project when assigning tasks to employees
  • Employees being given tasks which don’t match their skill sets
  • Staff failing to take notes when a project is assigned, then using guesswork to fill in missing details when they execute their work

You can avoid these issues by:

  • Making sure to slowly and comprehensively explain both the big picture and the small details when delegating tasks to team members
  • Assigning tasks which play to the strengths of specific team members, and offering full and open support to team members with questions or problems
  • Requiring team members to take notes during project meetings, especially at the initial phase

Managing Expectations

Other problems are caused by gaps between expectations and end results. While managers are fully justified in holding employees to specific performance expectations, it’s important to know how to act when those expectations aren’t met. Offering feedback and following up are vital to keeping productive communication lines open.

Use these specific strategies for avoiding miscommunications and fostering positive growth:

  • Emphasize benefits. Sometimes, employees just need to understand how their work impacts the entire team, and that failing to meet performance standards holds the whole team back. When everyone is firing on all cylinders, the entire team benefits — and that means improved job security and better opportunities for everyone. 
  • Consider changing your approach. Not everyone responds to the same communication strategies, and some people just need a little more direction. If this is the problem, try a different approach. Send detailed, step-by-step instructions via email to employees who seem to have trouble following verbal directions. Assemble all team members and discuss who is responsible for what, so every team member understands the role he or she plays in the bigger picture.
  • Try assigning different tasks to employees. One common reason employees underperform is that they’re being asked to do things they simply don’t excel at. As a manager, it’s your role to identify the strengths of specific employees and put them in a position to succeed whenever possible. You may have to try out a certain person in a variety of tasks before you’re able to pinpoint the employee’s natural aptitudes.
  • Build rapport. As things move along, you should always take opportunities to build rapport with employees on a personal level that isn’t necessarily related to work or projects at hand. If employees view you as an open, approachable and understanding person, they’re more likely to communicate problems, affording you an easy opportunity to correct the underlying issues.

However, one difficult reality of the work world is that some people just aren’t cut out for the work they’ve been given. If performance issues persist despite your best efforts to correct them, you’ll need to make some difficult choices. Some people just aren’t meant for certain types of work, and there’s only so long a company can hold on to a person who just isn’t getting the job done.

Are there other candidates out there who could perform better in the employee’s position? Is the employee consistently failing to respond to constructive criticism and languishing in a poor performance zone? If so, it might be time to cut ties and allow that person to find a job that better plays to their personal strengths.