Think of your office as a rowing crew. As the office coxswain, or person in command, it’s your responsibility to identify underperforming employees on your boat and help them out of their slump. After all, it takes multiple oars to reach the finish line. When any member fails to pull his or her weight, it drags down the entire team’s performance. 

The next time you feel your team going adrift because of an underperforming employee, try these five steps to turn things around and boost productivity.

1. Address the problem immediately

Approach an underperforming employee immediately so you can discuss the poor performance and set a corrective course ASAP. But you need to be tactful. You don’t want to launch right into a list of things the administrative professional is doing wrong. Otherwise, your employee will become defensive right away and tune you out. When it comes to this initial conversation, the more constructive your criticism is, the better. 

Explain that you have observed a decline in work quality and ask if there’s something going on. Listen for cues about interpersonal conflicts that might be hindering the worker. Perhaps he or she feel further training is needed to perform well in the role. Or there may be issues outside of work. Make sure you reiterate, and that the person grasps, the full scope of their responsibilities and expectations for the position.  

2. Set goals

A real leader (and a good boss) will give the underperforming employee the opportunity to turn his or her poor performance around. Work with the admin to develop a work-improvement plan. The key is to create the plan together — he or she must be as invested in improving the situation as you are. 

Your job as a manager is to identify resources, tools and support that are available to help the worker turn the corner. This could include software, professional training or guided mentorship from a more experienced member of the team

Also be sure to set a timeframe for improvement. It’s critical you make it clear when you expect to see a change in performance.   

3. Provide feedback

It’s up to you to assess progress on the performance-improvement plan. Set aside time for regular check-ins with the administrative professional to provide feedback on what the underperforming employee is doing well and what he or she must still do differently, especially in light of the timeframe you have set. Ask about challenges or hurdles the person might be facing and what support you can offer. Document these sessions for your records; letting a staff member know you’re doing so will show him or her that you take improvement seriously.

4. Reward improvement

Encouragement goes a long way toward inspiring improvement. If you notice an underperforming employee making a concerted effort to take different approaches to his or her work and signs of steady improvement, acknowledge it. 

A simple “good job” can be all that's needed to help your worker remain on the right track. Remember, your job is not to frighten the struggling team member but rather to provide incentive and guidance to improve.

5. Know when to let go

If the admin’s performance is still lacking after providing multiple opportunities to make improvements, and having a documented improvement plan in place, it’s probably time to part ways. Knowing when to make this call can be difficult, but it’s an essential duty of every effective manager.