How to Deal with Middling Employees

How to Deal with Middling Employees

| October 29, 2019

Every business owner I have ever met has one – a middling employee who does not excel in the job, but is not a true bad apple.These employees are polite and may work hard, yet their work product is mediocre at best and you must spend time to get it to where you need it to be. Given that it is difficult to find and train new people, is it worth it to fire the person and try to get someone better or just maintain the status quo?

A recent article on this topic in Investment News provided a helpful analogy to sports. "If you were a general manager trying to build a championship sports team, would you intentionally stock your roster with mediocre players?" The author argues it would not be fair to management, the top players, and the fans to keep someone who does not meet your standards. Arguably, even the middling player is not served well by feeling like he/she is not a good fit for the job or organization.

As a business owner myself, I know it is challenging to find the right people and turnover is expensive. However, lowering your standards is not the answer. It is a disservice to your business and your clients to give less than 100% and forcing other employees to pick up the slack will hurt morale and eventually your bottom line.

To help avoid or address this problem, consider if you are taking these steps:

  1. Defining the job and setting expectations accurately. Before you start interviewing, you should have a clear description of the position, what qualifications are most important, and how success is defined. Communicate this to applicants before hiring and continually during employment.
  2. Change skills or positions. Some employees may lack the appropriate skills but can be taught. Provide more training as a first step. Also look at whether there may be another position in the organization better suited to the person’s skills.
  3. Ongoing review. Annual review is not enough. Ideally, corrections should come on the spot or at least quarterly. These help the employee to understand and address his/her trouble spots or at least be warned that their job is in jeopardy.

How do you deal with middling employees? I would love to hear your suggestions.