In today's competitive work environment, leaders are charged with maximizing employee productivity, minimizing costs and improving profits — not always an easy task keeping all three going well.

Among the monitoring responsibilities, people performance is high on the list. So, how should a leader approach an employee who is clearly underachieving and impacting productivity, costs and profits?

The process of control actually should begin with the hiring procedure. Proper selection matching employee skills with organizational needs — is paramount to remaining competitive and profitable. It is also important to create a higher level of job satisfaction. Done properly, the perfect match increases productivity, reduces costs and raises the organizational profit margin.

Once an employee begins his job, the leader engages him by working as his mentor, coach and trusted adviser. This assistance should be available to every employee. Some may need less help, others may need more. The important factor is applying the growth process in a consistent fashion for every employee.

Once a leader has trained, mentored and coached an employee to raise her skill level and contributions to the organization, it becomes time for the employee to raise her performance level. In some cases an additional step of remediation may be needed. But continuous underperformance cannot be tolerated. A leader's job is to lead, and a failure to confront poor performance is a major step backward.

If a leader tolerates poor performance without ever correcting it, this opens the door to workplace chaos. Morale diminishes, profit and productivity suffer, and turnover (losing good employees) is more likely to occur. Employees observing such performance, without any intervention by the leader, sense this is not a good place to work and eventually get tired of picking up the slack.

Give employees every tool you can in order to maximize their ability to contribute. But the expectation level must be clearly identified and the proper help given. Once these are done and underperformance continues, it time for the leader to either move the employee to a job he can do well or replace him.

This is not a situation where being timid is tolerated. Honest, direct dialogue is necessary. Yes, these may seem like harsh options, but they are necessary for both the employee and the organization.

There is no better place to provide honest and direct dialogue than during periodic performance reviews. This time with an employee is when specific strategies to improve are provided as well as recognizing superior performance. Detailed documentation of the conversation is critical to help employees and to provide protection for the organization. Termination without meticulous documentation is an invitation for a starving attorney to intervene.

One necessary component of the review is a growth plan. This provides employee incentives to improve performance and grow their careers. When all of these options are undertaken, employees have been treated fairly and there can be no complaint from anyone, nor should anyone feel discriminated against.

One final point, don't eliminate evaluating your performance. Perhaps your behavior and leadership style have, in some way, contributed to poor employee performance.

  • Are you monitoring performance and providing feedback on a regular basis?
  • Are you recognizing good performers and encouraging top performance from everyone?
  • Do you help lesser-performing employees understand they need to improve because their performance is holding back the progress of the team?
  • Do you consistently study leadership techniques and engage in a personal continuous improvement process?

Tough questions for a tough responsibility.

Nobody said leading was easy. If a leaders are not willing to maximize the development of employees and themselves and make hard, tough decisions, perhaps they don't deserve the title of leader.