Top tips for managing underperformance

When everyone is working to their full potential, a business runs like a well-oiled machine – boosting high productivity, healthy workplace environment, transparency, and happy employees. In short, HPW – high performance working.

On the other hand, disengaged, unfocused, and underperforming employees can sap the life from any business, no matter how small or big the organisation. Shrewd business managers recognise that staff behaviour is not the sole responsibility of the individual in question, but rather something that both parties need to work on together.

There are a number of reasons why your employees may be underperforming in their roles, and they need to be addressed by line managers and senior management.

Here are some of the common issues why your personnel might be failing to meet the expectations:

  • Employees are incapable – their core abilities do not align with the abilities required to complete the activities of the job.
  • Employees are disconnected – they don’t share or understand the direction, vision, belief or mission of the business, and there is no emotional connection.
  • Employees are unclear – they might not understand their specific performance expectations and don’t know what a successful or ‘done right’ outcome is.
  • Lack of or poor quality feedback from line managers – employees aren’t aware of their underperformance.
  • Personal issues – reasons may vary and line managers might or might not be aware of what they really are.


With this in mind, we break down the ways in which line managers can manage underperformance:

  • Include the required abilities in addition to skill and experience criteria when defining the performance profile of the job. Hire for abilities as well as skill and experience.
  • Give clear and honest feedback on the issue and its impact on the business. Before taking formal steps, give them as much feedback as possible. If the quality of work has lowered, speak to the employee. Clearly communicate what’s changed, ways to change the person’s approach, and the time frame that’s been granted to turn things around. Deliver your fair and necessary feedback with conviction and kindness.
  • Listen carefully and be open-minded. Ask about roadblocks and any other issues the person believes is affecting their performance and encourage them to come up with a solution. If they can’t, provide a solution and follow up with short-term goals around the solution.
  • Create performance goals together. It’s very important to include employees in the process of outlining individual performance targets. Ask your employee what they would like to achieve, how they think they can do it, and support how they may need to achieve their goals.
  • Document the feedback, goals, development, and daily achievements. Always follow up and make sure to monitor the progress. Good leaders hold their employees accountable.
  • Recognise and reward improvement. Be sure to notice accomplishments and congratulate employees on improved performance and their rethinking approach to the team and business. If good performance continues, remember to reward them with more responsibilities and autonomy. Also, don’t forget about a simple mention of ‘thank you’ or ‘well done’ – it often goes a long way.
  • Formally address a continued underperformance. If mutual efforts fail and an employee continues to underperform, a manager should formally address this behaviour accordingly with the company’s HR guidelines and procedures.

As mentioned earlier, both parties need to work together on addressing underperformance. However, line managers should know the right time to cut ties. Letting an employee go from a business is never ideal, or easy for that matter. It should always be treated as a last resort. However, if an employee continues to flout the rules, underperforms, and oozes pessimism, cut the ties. Holding on to underachieving employees can often result in a ripple effect of low morale, negativity, and poor performance of the whole business.

Here at Kingsley Hamilton People, individuals are our passion and we care about your journey with us. We are currently looking for experienced recruitment consultants ready to lead a team. For more information, call us on 020 7078 0213.

Post a comment