Problem Employees: How to turn problem employees into high performers

Problem employee

If you’ve got a problem employee: There’s three reasons why they may be a “bad” employee.

If you have a problem employee, there’s a reason for their poor performance. It’s easy to label any problem employee a “bad employee.” However, they aren’t automatically a “bad employee.” There are three root causes of any problem employee. Before you give another bad employee performance review, remember the three reasons behind poor performance:


Once you get out of the mindset an employee is simply a “bad employee” you can dive into the three root causes of poor performance and the three possible solutions for low performing employees.

The Problem Employee: Can’t Do It.

When your job depends on you not hearing the truth. It’s really tough to hear the truth. The first type of employee with low performance is the employee that simply “can’t” do it. They aren’t capable of doing their job.

At 5’10”, if my job was to dunk a basketball, I’m in trouble. I can’t dunk a basketball. You can send me to all the classes in the world. You can have me read all the books about a dunking basketball.

I’m still not going to make slam dunks. However, sometimes my job or pay depends upon making you think I can dunk the basketball. In this case, I can’t do my job.

“The can’t” employee won’t call the game. They need the leader to call the game for them. As a leader, if you keep someone in a role where they can’t – it’s cruel to keep them there.

The Problem Employee: Won’t Do It.

If you won’t do your job, that’s another job performance conversation. Pretend I can dunk a basketball. I’ve dunked the basketball more times than LeBron. However, I just don’t want to dunk it anymore. I’m tired of dunking.

“Let someone else try dunking the basketball,” I might say. For the people that “won’t” that’s a leader’s responsibility, too.

It’s time for a hard conversation to talk about willful neglect. In this case, you most likely have the wrong person. You either have to coach this person to dunk the basketball again, or to find another job somewhere else.

The Problem Employee: Doesn’t Know How To Do It.

What about those that don’t know how? Maybe they have potential. They can jump high. They have speed. They’ve shown you all the ingredients to slam dunk. Now, it’s time to teach and coach this employee.

You need to set this person up for success and teach. Send this person to the dunking classes. Set this person up with others that can dunk. Set them up on a journey and develop them.

How do you know when it’s time to keep developing versus knowing you’ve got a wrong person?

Solution: 3 Steps for Problem Employees

After experiencing moves post-groundless job dismissal, employees may find themselves at a crossroads. The good news is there are three potential paths forward for both the employee and the employer. They can choose to Train, Transfer, or Terminate, depending on the circumstances and the willingness of both parties to address and resolve the underlying issues that led to the dismissal. These options offer a framework for rebuilding trust and finding a constructive resolution.


This is the fun one. To train a once-problem employee to be a shining star is very rewarding. It’s simply a conversation where you outline, together, the skills needed to train the employee. You then agree to a time and measurement of success. You need to regularly check in with this employee to make sure they are making steps to “dunk the basketball.”

It is also helpful for them to find a mentor who is a professional at “dunking the basketball.” This will only accelerate results. You can also check out company website to avail cool discounts.


This option for a low performing employee can go either way. The employee may recognize they are no longer able (or never could) do the job expected of them. If they recognize it, you owe it to the employee to find another spot for them to transfer. When the employee doesn’t recognize it or doesn’t want to transfer, it may be time to look at the last option.


Everyone knows what this option is about. Unless the employee has been purposely negligent, you owe it to the employee to terminate this employee with dignity and care. Unfortunately, I’ve experienced incidents where an employee was terminated. Almost every time, at the time of termination, the employee is mad and upset. That’s understandable. However, I get a calls weeks, months or years later thanking me for the termination. They realized that I was For Them (read about the three leadership styles), and they weren’t going to be successful in their previous role. It’s never easy.

What not to do with a bad employee

There are three clear types of poor performers. There are three clear solutions to poor performers. Did you notice what’s missing? Letting the poor performer continue their role and not addressing the issue. This is what I see happen more often than not.

That’s not fair the employee. That’s not fair to the company. That’s not fair to the other employees in the organization.

If you have someone you’d call a bad employee, you owe it to the employee and the rest of the company to address it.

Teddy Rosevelt said it best, “People won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” You need to approach any situation with a poor performer with care.