How to Get Your Problem Employee Back on Track

Before you bring down the ax, try taking these measures to see if your slacker can be redeemed.
August 24, 2012

The “Come to Jesus” talk is a necessary conversation to have with any problematic employee. Done correctly, at the very least it gives you rock solid standing to let a non-performer go, and at best it motivates the employee to get on track and re-engage. Here are my five tips on how to get the most out of these uncomfortable scenarios:

1. Get the timing right. I've found the right time to broach the talk is after a couple of routine, or task-related discussions about the inadequate performance. At this point you've established displeasure attached to concrete examples, and it’s time to change the scope of the criticism to be more broadly about the job as a whole. If you speak too soon, the employee will feel baselessly attacked since you won't have specific instances to cite. Wait too long and you will have already become a broken record, and your wake-up call will fall on deaf ears. 

2. Change the setting. Since the goal is to make your employee sit up and take notice, the environment in which you have your “Come to Jesus” moment is a powerful way to break the routine and send the message that this is something important. I've found stepping out for a coffee, or even just talking while taking a walk to be effective.

3. Don't let it be personal. The easiest way to make one of these talks less awkward is to stick to quantifiable facts. Telling someone they aren't showing initiative is much more subjective than simply stating that he or she is making half as many daily client calls as the other employees. If you as a manager feel like someone isn't working out, it will not be hard to map that gut reaction to concrete data you can use in making your case.

4. Set a few clear expectations. Once you've gone to all the trouble to time, plan and lay out your argument, the follow-through is to define a few key performance turnaround goals and an interval over which they must be met. Again, think about concrete quantitative indicators here. 

5. Start thinking about a replacement. In some cases your employee will not have realized how serious the situation has become, and this talk will trigger a positive attitude adjustment. But others may still not take it seriously. By the time you initiate this conversation, you should already be quietly feeling around for a replacement. If the employee has a bad attitude and just decides to throw in the towel, you don't want to be caught short-handed.

Adam Rich is co-founder of Thrillist. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamMatthewRich.

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