Managing underperformance

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When you are faced with an ongoing performance issue and informal methods (i.e. corrective feedback) have failed to address the problem, you may need to move into formal performance management.

Although it's unpleasant, knowing how to manage underperformance is an important part of performance management. If you can quickly and effectively deal with employees who are continually underperforming, you will help to reduce the impact on the performance of the whole team.

Steps to managing underperformance

The steps outlined below are considered best practice, however you should always check the specific guidelines that your organisation adheres to before taking steps to manage underperformance.

Step 1: Arrange a meeting to discuss the problem

Arrange a meeting with the employee to discuss their underperformance.

  • Inform the employee of the purpose of the meeting ahead of time so they have time to prepare.
  • Encourage the employee to bring a support person. A support person might be another employee or a union representative who attends the meetings and provides general support to the employee. They also act as a witness and can raise issues about the fairness of the process.
  • Ensure the meeting takes place in private and in an environment that is comfortable and non-threatening, away from distractions and interruptions.

Step 2: Discuss the problem

Meet with the employee to discuss the problem and explore the reasons for it occurring.

  • Clearly explain what the problem is, why it is a problem, the impact it is having, and why you are concerned.
  • Highlight that the meeting is an open discussion and that the employee is free to express their opinions, so you can fully understand why the problem has occurred.
  • When discussing any performance issues, check that the employee is aware of what is required of them, and understands the gap between what is happening now and what is required of them.
performance management managing underperformance

Step 3: Jointly devise a solution

Where possible, it is important that a solution is jointly devised with the employee. An employee who has contributed to the solution will be more likely to accept and act on it.

  • Explore ideas by asking questions.
  • Focus on positive possibilities.
  • Offer support such as training, mentoring, flexible work arrangements, or redefining the employee’s roles and expectations.

Step 4: Create a plan of action

Develop a clear plan of action for the employee to implement the solution(s). This can be in the form of a performance agreement or an action plan.

  • Clarify the roles and responsibilities of the employee.
  • Clearly outline the expectations for what should be achieved and a time period for them to improve.
  • Include strategies for training and development (if relevant).
  • Set a date for a progress review meeting to discuss progress against the agreed plan of action.

Step 5: Monitor performance

Monitor performance and continue to provide feedback and encouragement.

  • Keep a written record of all discussions relating to underperformance in case further action is required.
  • Meet to review progress even if the issue has been resolved. This ensures that both parties are clear that the issue has been resolved.

What if the issue isn't resolved?

More serious action may need to be taken if the employee’s performance does not improve including further counselling, issuing formal warnings and ultimately if the issue cannot be resolved, termination of employment.

Learn more

Next: Handling negative responses