CEO Advice Hiring/Capacity Building

How to Handle a Low-Performing Contractor or Employee

How to Handle a Low-Performing Contractor or Employee

There are two different types of non-performers. The first type are people who don’t care and aren’t invested in the work. Their lack of interest means you’ll never receive great work from them. The second type of non-performers are defiant. These are employees and contractors who don’t listen to your directives because they believe they’re right and you’re wrong.

The low-performing contractor or employee who doesn’t care could develop interest if they’re able to be motivated and inspired. The defiant non-performers are able to turn their behavior around in cultures welcoming healthy input from all, even though you still have the last say as the business owner.

Here are five avenues to turn performance around, from setting expectations from the start to providing honest feedback along the way.

1. Set Expectations.

Clearly setting expectations is the only path to getting the results you desire. Develop good communication systems, including milestones for check-ins to view and discuss how major projects are coming along. This isn’t the road to micromanagement. In fact, healthy check-ins allow you to avoid it.

Set standards prior to the start of the project, touch base at specific checkpoints along the way and then you’ll only have the final review (which shouldn’t require many changes) once a project has reached its end. The goal is avoiding surprises and allowing ample time for any desired changes.

2. Master the Balancing Act.

As a business owner, it should be your goal to hire or contract top talent. As such, understand that there’s always going to be a balancing act between what you think is correct and what these experts in their respective fields have to say. Their recommendations and actions aren’t always going to be in line with how you define performance or what you think results should look like. Listen to the people you hire and hear what they have to say. Sometimes you’ll want to change your mind to go with their suggestions, and other times you’ll stick to your original game plan.

Keep an open mind; the goal is to do what is best for your business.

3. Uncover the Source of the Issue.

Think about why this person is a low-performing contractor or employee:

  • Is it a stylistic issue?
  • Is there a lack of aptitude?

If the issue comes down to a lack of aptitude, it’s time to move on. However, if you don’t agree with a team member’s style or method, they can learn your way. If you do train a low-performing contractor or employee with your business’ style and they continue to remain noncompliant, understand this person is not a team player and it’s likely time to move on.

4. Create an Environment of Learning and Growth.

As the owner of your business, it’s up to you to set the tone for your company culture. Whatever that culture is, make sure it encourages learning, collaboration and growth. There are always opportunities to learn on teams consisting of experts of different subject matters and disciplines. Even experts should constantly be learning and there has to be room for growth from all parties.

This type of atmosphere will foster great relationships across your team. A business culture that doesn’t allow mistakes becomes a high stakes, high pressure environment, a sure way to see performance and innovation fizzle. Create the right balance.

5. Provide Honest Feedback.

By the time you let a low-performing contractor or employee go, that person shouldn’t be surprised. If you have a good management style, every person on your team understands exactly how well or poor they’re doing at any given time.

The best way to address poor performance is to simply be direct. For instance, last week, one of our contractors worked on the type of project where she normally excels, but hit a block. I let her know she normally produces great work but explained this iteration was subpar. I explained what needed to be changed and asked her to “step it up”. She got emotional and I told her it wasn’t an emotional matter. It’s just the level of work and performance we need.

This shouldn’t be confused with over-mentoring or over-articulating. If you’re too hands-on, you’ll create further dependability and diminish autonomy. Instead, share candid feedback and provide opportunities for improving performance. It’s a difficult balance but it can be achieved. Most importantly, keep employees and contractors abreast of what’s happening. No one should feel blindsided when you let them go.

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Is it time to expand the training of your employees or give contractors new skills to prepare for your brand’s upcoming projects? Get in touch. We work with startup, growth stage and enterprise businesses for a host of services including hiring, capacity building and executive leadership. Call 310-957-5264 or send an email to