Photo of a fig tree - underperforming employee
Photo of a fig tree. Source

#Bible: The parable of the fig tree vs underperforming employee

Some time ago, I attended a business seminar organized by the church I fellowship in Ghana. The presentations on “Healthy leadership and organizational structure” were made by the founders of mybusinessonpurpose.

During the seminar, one of the participants asked a question, I rephase here; ‘how can you handle an employee that is underperforming?’ and she added she was considering letting go of that employee.

Interestingly, he used the parable of the fig tree analogy to explain how the participant ought to handle such a situation. Also, his explanation inspired me to write this article, I believe many Christian entrepreneurs can learn from this article when faced with a similar situation.

In the parable of the fig tree told by Jesus to His disciples, He said;

“A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruits on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?

luke 13: 6-8

In this parable, the owner of the fig tree has been patient for 3 years, expecting it to bear fruits but found none. So, imagine how disappointed the owner felt.

Just like that fig tree owner, as a business owner, for instance, you have an employee who has been consistently underperforming for a long period of time. As a result, it’s justified if you decide to cut him/her off. As written in Luke 13:7b; “Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?”

Truly, why would you keep paying the salary of an employee who doesn’t bring value to your business? Yes, you can go ahead to fire such an employee. But what if there is a chance to improve that employee’s performance, will you take it?

The concluding part of the fig tree parable shows us how to nurture for a period of time before taking any action;

“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”

luke 13;9

Bear in mind, that taking that chance on your employee depends on the situation. So take this advice with caution, because employees are humans and not fig trees. Psychologist says humans are complex in terms of emotions, perceptions, experiences, desires, memories, etc.

Photo by Christina on Unsplash

Here are some ways to handle underperforming employee(s);

First, schedule a one on one meeting with the employee: 

You may have had several meetings with this employee with regard to their low performance. But this time, do something different, schedule the meeting outside the office environment, maybe a park, coffee shop, etc.

The goal is to make the employee feel relaxed and open up about their challenges (if there is any). As I said earlier, employees are human, treat them as one no matter how underserving you think they are. At the end of the meeting; you should have an answer to these 3 questions below;

  1. What is the reason(s) for underperforming?
  2. Why those reason(s)?
  3. How can the challenge be resolved?
Second, Listen and empathize:

In the first part of the meeting, listen more —be empathetic, and less judgemental. Your objective at this stage is to put yourself in their shoes to understand their point of view. Bear in mind, the employee may bring up issues that are totally not work-related.

Nevertheless, you need to be patient to let the employee express him or herself on unrelated issues. Surprisingly, that might lead to the root cause of the challenge they face in the workplace.

The second part of the meeting is to seek further clarification to make sure you understood what has been said so far, but be careful not to dig into their personal life they aren’t willing to share with you.

Photo by LinkedIn S. Navigator on Unsplash
Third, Discuss possible solutions:

You could discuss with the employee possible ways to tackle the challenge he/she raised. However, this largely depends on what you uncovered as the root of the challenge during the second part of the meeting.

Therefore, be honest about the situation, if it’s something beyond what you can handle or may need to involve a third party —whatever it is, inform the employee your next course of action.

In the end, whatever decision you will take, make sure the employee is fully aware and willing to partake especially if it’s the case of giving them another chance to improve their performance in the workplace.

Also, do well to inform the employee of the reward and consequences of taking up the program to improve their performance.

Importantly, when you decide to give an underperforming employee a second chance to improve their performance, you should do that for a stated period of time as in the fig tree parable “..leave it alone for one more year..”

However, it doesn’t have to be one year, but a minimum of 3 months preferably —to give adequate time for the employee to catch up. 

Takeaway: In your team, you may have one or more of your employees who are underperforming. Don’t be quick to lay them off rather give them a second fair chance to pick up.

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