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What should you do with high-performing employees who suddenly struggle?

9 entrepreneurs offer advice on how to help a top performer when you notice a performance dip.

4 min read




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Q. What is the first thing you should do when you notice a normally high-performing employee is off his/her game?

1. Meet with them outside of the office

In cases like this, I’ve often found that the root cause has nothing to do with work. Even if it does, getting away from the office and grabbing coffee to ask questions and just listen to what’s going on in both their personal and professional life is a great way to casually explore the situation. Making them feel comfortable and showing that you care about their well-being does wonders. — Kevin Yamazaki, Sidebench

2. Check to see when they took their last vacation

My best workers are people who strive in stress, and that can mean they’re not always the best about taking vacations as often as they need them. Even Type-A personalities can burn out, and it’s a manager’s responsibility to make sure that these people are getting enough guilt-free vacation time as they need to stay on top of their game. Sometimes that means pushing them out the door. — Adam Steele, The Magistrate

3. Offer to help in any way you can

There’s often a personal reason top performers drop off. In this instance, you should take them aside and mention that you’ve noticed them not being themselves. Acknowledge that you don’t know why, and you it might not be your business. Without mentioning specifics, extend an open offer to help in any way you can. This gives them the opening to talk about it on their terms. — Andrew Thomas, SkyBell Doorbell

4. Give them time

I’m not concerned if an employee isn’t working at her best for a few days. But, if it looks like it’s a more serious issue, I’d invite her for a non-confrontational chat about how she feels things are going. If I can help, I will. If she needs time, I’ll give her slack. Eventually I’d have to act, but returning a once great employee to their best is a far better option than replacing her. — Vik Patel, Future Hosting

5. Talk with their manager

The impulse is to speak with them and try to help, but that doesn’t always work for everyone. Some people (and some problems) are private. I always just make a note to talk to their manager or add it to my agenda for our next one-on-one meeting. — Hongwei Liu, mappedin

6. Invite them to an activity

Challenge them to a game of ping pong, treat them to lunch, suggest a walk around the block or offer to buy coffee at a shop nearby. Whatever you do, just find an opportunity to do something nice or fun together allowing them to drop their guard and open up to you as a peer, rather than as a manager or boss. Then you can diagnose the problem and come up with an appropriate solution. — Firas Kittaneh, Amerisleep

7. Sit them down ASAP

As soon as you notice something may be off with them, pull them aside to talk and find out what’s going on. Once you hear from them whether it is something happening in their personal life or just an off week for them, make sure to give them what they need to get back on track. An afternoon off or working from home for the day could be exactly what they need. — Bryanne Lawless, BLND Public Relations

8. See if they need additional help

Too often, high performers are “rewarded” with their work by having more of it shoved onto their plate. So if a star employee is falling behind, I’ll always meet with them and examine their workload. I always ensure my team has a reasonable workload, and adding too much does that exact opposite of boosting productivity. Instead, I’ll let them supervise or hire more members if they’re overwhelmed. — Elle Kaplan, LexION Capital

9. Ask the right questions

Start by asking questions: Are they happy in their role? Is it the one they want? Is it one they want to be doing a few years from now? Then listen. Make sure they feel empowered to explore other opportunities and pursue their interests within the company. — Dan Golden, BFO (Be Found Online)