The Four W’s of Underperforming Employees

The key to getting the work you need from an underperforming employee can almost always be found in uncovering the answers to the Four W’s. As a manager, you’re also a leader, and it’s up to you to take the lead in guiding your team members to their ultimate success. Asking questions and starting a conversation is the first step to solving a problem and the Four W’s can get you started.


Does your employee understand why you are asking him or her to perform a task? Does he or she grasp where this task fits within the structure of your business’s overall goals? Does the employee know that the repercussions of failing affect not only him, but his team members and the company as a whole?


Does your employee have the tools and support he or she needs to complete the task? Often there is a barrier or break in the chain someplace that your employee can’t identify or affect. See to it that she has everything in place to do her job properly and without disruption.


Does your employee fully understand how to do her job, or is further explanation or training required? Sometimes people are afraid to ask for help and will soldier on indefinitely in order to avoid revealing this inadequacy.


Is your employee really the right person for this job? This question can be harder to answer, and should be the last one to approach if the other three W’s don’t address the problem. Hiring is an art, not a science, and there are many factors to consider when making the decision to bring someone onboard. It can be difficult to replace or transfer an employee but it’s always wiser than keeping the wrong person in a job he can’t or won’t do.

The Four W’s are not just for underperforming employees—they can help anyone who is experiencing difficulty with a job or aspect of an assignment. The important thing is to be open to asking questions and hearing the answers. Employees respect and appreciate a manager who wants to help them succeed.