How to coach a slow employee

How to coach a slow employee
Written by: Karl Sakas

Do you have an employee who takes too long to complete certain tasks? You’re not alone!

A coaching client reached out for help with a slow employee:

When speaking with “Roger” regarding his workload last week, he mentioned that it would take him 4 hours to draft an account brief. I can do it in 2 hours, and his fellow Account Managers can do it in 2-3 hours max.

4 hours is a long time—it’s half a day! I haven’t gone back to Roger to address that 4 hours is too much time yet and I wanted your advice on the best approach.

This comes up a lot—when an agency owner or manager can do work faster than their employees.

Sometimes that’s OK—the point of delegation is that employees do low-value work so managers can do something high-value. But other times, that’s wasting clients’ budget.

Process for Fixing This at Your Agency

Here’s how to use employee coaching fix this, using the 4-hour creative brief as an example.

1) Understand why it’s taking so long.

First, do you have a sense of why s/he’s taking 4 hours instead of 2-3 hours?

It’s possible your employee doesn’t know how to do what they’re doing, or they don’t know certain shortcuts you know.

It’s also possible they think they need to do the work to a higher standard than you expect—so they spend extra time polishing something that doesn’t need the polishing.

2) Be diplomatic when you make comparisons.

Second, you want to be careful how you present it to him/her. In a recent Culture Survey for another client, an anonymous agency employee wrote:

“Incentives from management are often driven by guilt or negative competition. For example, when you speak up about your workload being too heavy, you are told that you’re wrong because [your coworker] can get X task done in 10 minutes, and you should be able to keep up.”

That is, you don’t want your employee to regret telling you it takes 4 hours—because you want him/her to bring up things like this in the future, rather than hide it because s/he’s worried s/he’ll get in trouble.

3) Frame this as helping them, not punishing them.

Focus on helping them—not that they’re in trouble.

In the case of Roger, above, I recommended my client say she’d like to help him optimize things, to help him reduce his workload—that if it ultimately takes him 4 hours, so be it—but it may be possible to get it to 2-3 hours, and that’ll give him more budget to do other things.

4) Ask them to do a Work Breakout (WBO) to see where time goes now.

Start by asking your employee to look at how the time breaks-out now. That is, what are the major sub-tasks?

This may help you—and your employee—find unnecessary steps or other bottlenecks. Use my Work Breakout (WBO) technique to do this.

5) Focus on solutions, not penalties.

If you conclude your employee is ultimately doing the best with what s/he’s got, ask them set up a meeting with a coworker who works faster—to get their help on finding ways to complete it faster.

If you approach it as “I want to help you reduce your workload” (instead of criticism that s/he’s inefficient), s/he’ll take it better—and you’ll get the result you want!

If they don’t make progress, you can adapt from there—even graduating to a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) or terminating them—but start by giving them a chance to fix things. You’d want the same if you were in their position.

Question: How do you handle a slow-performing employee?

Book Cover: "Work Less, Earn More" by Karl Sakas

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