Steps to Take When Dealing with an Underperforming Employee

Shridharan Muthu

Founder & CTO at Diagon Technologies



There was an underperformer on the team with soft skills, while his technical skills remained up to par. Their lack of motivation, ability to show up to work on time, and ability to present tasks in a digestible manner wasn't manageable for others involved. This was a team that I had taken over which had come with a lot of associated baggage. The team thought they needed this particular person and were unable to make a decision to let them go.

Actions taken

What I did first in this situation was start by auditing.

  • I spoke with the manager of this employee and he told me that there had been a visible decrease in production than there previously was. I then had the manager contemplate why he was keeping this employee.
  • I followed that by talking to the team. I posed the idea of if they were the ones having to deal with the results of low work production or mentoring this type of person. What would they do?
  • The final thing I did was take this person out of the office for a coffee and ask him what he wants, what he is trying to do, and what makes him tick. The second thing I did was try to remedy the situation.
  • We explored some other options that the employee might be better suited for. In the end however, we ended up letting him go as the overall consensus from outside teams was that there was not a strong need for a head count to fill in. The final thing I did was make everyone on the team aware of the changes that had been set in place.

Lessons learned

  • When I asked the manager about why he was keeping an underperforming employee, his answer was a bit more personal, in that he didn't want to cause problems with the visa and green card for this person.
  • When the team was asked about how they would feel about dealing with this person on a leadership level, they agreed that they would have to be more engaging. That is to say that someone would have to be checking back if that person is done with their work and actively helping them a lot. The overall feeling from the team was not very great, and it was obvious the team was taking on some baggage from this person.
  • Once I was able to develop a deeper conversation with the underperforming employee, he opened up about not wanting to be a part of the payments team and wanting to be somewhere more entrepreneurial. It became clear within 15 minutes that his motivations and what makes him work did not match with what he was doing.
  • When you talk to the boss's boss, there is generally a lack of being comfortable. So one thing I didn't want to do was bring the conversation into the office. That helped to open up the conversation a bit.
  • When I told the team that I had let that particular employee go, the majority of them were already aware that this was coming. In this case, it set a clear example that if you are at work, you do have to be respectful of others and meet some work standards, and if you do not, then it's probably not the place for you. This place is not for slacking off. If you do not meet the bar, there are repercussions.
  • The employee is now actually doing really well in another big company. He is doing a lot more application work instead of being on the payments team.

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Shridharan Muthu

Founder & CTO at Diagon Technologies

Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyDecision MakingCulture DevelopmentEngineering ManagementPerformance ReviewsFeedback TechniquesCareer GrowthCareer Progression

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