One of the hardest parts about working in management is having to fire an employee. It's especially heartbreaking if you suspect the person really needs the job or is earnestly trying. The good news is that there are ways to prevent firing someone if the issues are addressed in a timely manner.
Poor work performance is caused by many reasons. Some people are unable to perform efficiently if they are under personal pressure. Others fail when they don't quite understand what's expected of them. Some individuals try to test the waters to see the minimal work they can do for acceptance and work survival. The reasons are varied, but the fact remains that subpar performance on the job cannot continue within a company focused on its bottom line. A project manager often ends up being the person communicating this reality to lower level employees.
Even when some employees are given subpar evaluations or told to amp up their performance a notch, they show no improvement. When this occurs, it's time to start solving the problem. While you should be patient and allow the worker a few weeks to be able to focus on needed improvements, start the work intervention early for the greater good of the company, yourself and the employee. After all, nobody wants to go on a downward spiral until he is fired.
Solving the Problem
Schedule an informal meeting with the errant employee. Be as direct as possible in the meeting. Sincerity is needed. So is empathy, but the employee needs to get the message clearly and concretely. Begin by letting the employee know that you are on his side. That is, after all, why you are trying to nip the problem in the bud. This will defer defensiveness and encourage him to listen to you.
From there, explain the problem. By letting the employee know how his work performance is affecting the company, his co-workers and the project, the need to improve will become more clear than if you simply state that work should improve. From there, give specific improvement goals. For instance, tailor weekly goals that are tangible and measurable that will let you both see how the employee is or isn't improving. The employee can then agree that this is fair. Many employers keep feedback and the progress they perceive an employee making from him. This is counterproductive if someone thinks he is doing a good job while he performs poorly. Instead of giving him enough rope to hang himself, this is the guidemap for how to save his job. An employee who truly wants his job will appreciate the feedback and ways to save it.
In order to make sure that the employee is on a steady track of improving, make sure to follow up. While there's a fine line between following up to provide helpful feedback and making an employee feel so scrutinized that he loses confidence, it's important to follow up with the goals that have been set. Compare the goals met and the ones that weren't. If the employee is having a problem reaching the goals, it may be that he doesn't quite understand how to meet them. It could be that certain aspects of his work training weren't properly addressed. Ask the worker why and what you can do to help him meet the goals. This will usually open a way to resolve the problems at hand, and your worker will appreciate that you care. This will inspire a greater work ethic in the future.