Managing Poor Employee Performance: A Guide to Uplifting Your Team

Oct 10, 2023 | Best Practice

Manager giving employee feedback on poor employee performance

For any organisation, managing staff performance is paramount. Yet, every manager will, at some point, face the challenge of dealing with poor performance. Let’s dive into understanding this and finding effective ways to turn things around.


In a dynamic work environment, managing poor performance can be a daunting task. Even the most consistent team members might face challenges affecting their output. External and internal factors can shift the dynamics.

It’s not just about the numbers; it’s about the human element involved. Also ensuring employees feel valued, understood, and empowered. So, effectively managing these performance issues is crucial for the long-term success of both the manager and employee.


What Are The Common Mistakes When Managing Staff Performance?


  1. Ignoring the Issue: Not addressing performance issues early can escalate the situation. Timely feedback is essential.
  2. Ambiguous Communication: Every job description should be clear. Employees should know what’s expected. Lack of clarity can lead to misunderstandings. Did you know that according to a Gallup survey, nearly half of employees are unclear of what is expected of them.
  3. Bypassing Company Procedures: The performance management process exists for a reason. Ignoring it can lead to bigger problems.
  4. Withholding Support: To improve their performance, team members need resources. This might be training, tools, or even just someone to talk to.

Managing staff performance is a delicate balancing act that requires tact, precision, and genuine concern. Unfortunately, even the most well-intentioned managers can sometimes falter, falling prey to common pitfalls.

By recognising and understanding these frequent missteps, leaders can better equip themselves to navigate the complexities of team dynamics, ultimately fostering a conducive work environment where every member feels supported and understood.



What Are The Common Causes of Poor Performance?


  • Lack of Motivation: When employees feel disconnected from their work environment or their role, their performance can drop. This is where performance reviews play a pivotal role. Regular check-ins can help managers understand if the job description still aligns with the employee’s skills and aspirations.
  • Distractions and Focus Issues: Today’s work environment is filled with distractions. Managers need to ensure team members have the tools and environment they need to concentrate.
  • Interpersonal Conflicts: Difficult conversations are a part of managing. But letting conflicts linger? That’s a recipe for disaster. Address interpersonal issues promptly to keep the team cohesive.
  • Inadequate Skills or Knowledge: Continuous training ensures that team members can adapt to changing job roles and expectations. Performance goals can shift, and employees need to keep up.

The complexities of human nature intertwined with the evolving dynamics of modern workplaces can sometimes lead to dips in performance. As managers, recognising the root causes of these lulls is crucial. By understanding the many factors that can hold back an individual’s ability to excel, leaders can adopt a proactive stance, implementing timely interventions and fostering a culture of continuous improvement and understanding.


Effectively Managing Poor Performance: A 7-Point Checklist for Managers

In the vast landscape of management, few tasks are as challenging, yet as crucial, as effectively managing poor performance. The nuances of addressing such situations require a roadmap, a guiding light to navigate the sometimes murky waters of underperformance.

This 7-point checklist serves as a comprehensive guide, empowering managers to approach these scenarios with clarity, empathy, and a structured action plan. By adhering to these steps, leaders can transform challenges into growth opportunities, ensuring both the individual and the team prosper.


1) Define the Key Performance Issues

  • Begin by identifying and clearly articulating the root causes of the performance lapse. Use data and evidence from the employee’s work to draw conclusions.
  • Engage other team members or peers to provide insights. Their feedback can offer a holistic understanding.
  • Address the performance problems explicitly. Ensure that you have specific incidents or examples to discuss.


2) Discuss Potential Causes of Performance Issues

  • Dive deep to understand the underlying reasons. Remember, sometimes personal challenges outside the office can impact work.
  • Promote open dialogue. Make sure you’re not just talking at the employee but engaging in a two-way conversation, allowing them to share their side of the story.


3) Provide Prompt and Constructive Feedback

  • Employees want feedback, even negagtive feedback. A Gallop survey suggested that 72% of respondents said their performance would improve if managers provided corrective feedback.
  • Employ the “Sandwich Technique” when delivering feedback: start with a positive, discuss the area needing improvement, and then end on another positive note.
  • Incorporate regular performance reviews into your management routine. Frequent check-ins help identify and address issues in real-time.
  • When discussing performance, always approach the conversation calmly, promptly, and without judgment.


4) Suggest Solutions and Actions

  • Based on the identified issues, suggest supportive measures. This could be further training, workshops, or additional resources to help improve their performance.
  • Reflect on the benefits of mentoring or coaching. A one-on-one approach often helps in understanding and addressing specific individual challenges.
  • If consistent issues persist, it might be time to introduce a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). This structured approach sets clear expectations and a path for improvement.


5) Leverage Performance Management Software

  • Embrace technology to streamline the performance management process.
  • Performance management software such as PerformanceHub can help you track performance discussions, set goals, manage 121 meetings and document your journey.


6) Optimising Employee Strengths

  • Continuous professional development is vital. Investing in ongoing training sessions or workshops can greatly benefit your team.
  • If certain tasks consistently yield poor results, consider redistributing roles or tasks according to team members’ strengths.


7) Approaching Disciplinary Action

  • If all supportive measures fail, disciplinary action might be necessary. However, always ensure that any steps taken align with your organisation’s legal and procedural guidelines.
  • Emphasise that such measures are a last resort. It’s always better to uplift than to penalise.



Offering Supportive Solutions to Team Members

  1. Training and Skill Development: Sometimes, it’s not about the will, but the way. Offer training sessions to help team members enhance their skills. This aligns with their personal development and the company’s performance goals.
  2. Leveraging Performance Management Software: With technology at our fingertips, using performance management tools can simplify tracking and goal setting. Ensure team members are trained and comfortable with these tools.
  3. Harnessing Strengths: Recognise the strengths within your team. By redirecting strong performances, managers can bolster areas that need improvement.
  4. Performance Improvement Plan (PIP): When performance issues persist, a structured performance improvement plan can help. This sets clear expectations for the employee, provides support, and outlines consequences if improvements aren’t met.


Expert Insights into the Performance Management Process

  • Consistent Check-Ins (121s): A manager’s relationship with their employee doesn’t thrive only on formal performance reviews. Regular, informal check-ins foster open communication. This proactive approach can often prevent issues before they arise.
  • Understanding Individual Motivations: Everyone has unique motivations. Tapping into these can dramatically improve performance. For instance, some might be motivated by skill development, while others focus on long-term career growth.
  • Team Dynamics Matter: An individual’s performance often correlates with team dynamics. A harmonious team can drive each member towards better results.
  • Creating a Safe Space: Difficult conversations are inevitable when managing staff performance. Ensuring these conversations happen in a safe, non-judgmental environment is key. This paves the way for constructive feedback and effective resolutions.


Long-Term Strategies for Managing Poor Performance

  • Nurturing Talent: Instead of always looking outside, nurturing talent within the organisation brings long-term benefits. This not only boosts morale but ensures that employees feel valued and loyal.
  • Aligning Recruitment with Company Values: The hiring process plays a significant role in managing performance. Ensuring new hires align with the company’s core values can preempt many performance issues.
  • Setting Clear Expectations: From day one, employees should have a crystal-clear job description. Regular updates ensure everyone is on the same page.
  • Encouraging Timely Feedback among Peers: Feedback shouldn’t just be top-down. Encouraging peers to provide timely feedback can offer a holistic view of an employee’s performance.



Dealing with poor performance is a nuanced task. At its core, it’s about balancing organisational goals with human empathy. Through clear communication, understanding, and a structured performance management process, managers can help team members navigate challenges and achieve their best. Remember, every challenge is an opportunity in disguise. By working together, both managers and employees can chart a course to success.

Read our 7 tips for improving employee performance.


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