10 Best Practices for Effectively Managing Underperforming Employees

Do you have an employee falling short of expectations? Hold off on the firing trigger. Underperformance can result from various factors on both the employer and employee ends.

When approaching this issue, you need to strike a balance between empathy and assertiveness. Let’s discuss some practical steps on how to manage an underperforming employee.

How to Identify an Underperformer?

Spotting underperformance involves a blend of keen observation, data analysis, and effective communication. Here are key steps for managers:

Clear Expectations:

Clearly define expectations and objectives for each employee. This clarity makes it easier to evaluate if they meet, exceed, or fall short of established benchmarks.

Productivity Tools:

Consider using productivity tracking tools to gain detailed insights into daily tasks and time management. These tools reveal how employees allocate their time, helping identify potential areas for improvement.

Regular Performance Reviews:

Conduct periodic performance reviews or check-ins to assess an employee’s progress. Engage in a dialogue covering achievements, challenges, and goals. This consistent communication provides insights into their overall performance trajectory. Consider utilizing an employee performance evaluation template to streamline the review process and ensure comprehensive assessment of key performance metrics and areas for improvement.

Quantifiable Metrics:

Utilize measurable metrics relevant to the employee’s role, such as sales targets or customer satisfaction scores. Objective data offers an unbiased perspective on their performance.

Quality of Work:

Evaluate the quality of their work. Consider consistency in meeting or exceeding standards versus errors, missed deadlines, or a decline in work quality.

Observation and Feedback:

Observe day-to-day activities and seek feedback from colleagues. Colleagues often offer valuable perspectives on the employee’s contributions and collaboration skills.

Managing Underperforming Employees: 10 Steps  

1. Identify the Problem and Its Causes

To start, dig into performance metrics, feedback, and observations to spot where things might be falling short. Look at numbers, gather feedback from colleagues, and observe day-to-day tasks. This helps pinpoint specific areas of underperformance.

Additionally, consider external factors that could be playing a role. Is the workload overwhelming? Are there personal issues affecting their work? Maybe there’s a lack of necessary resources. Understanding these aspects adds depth to identifying the root causes of underperformance. The goal is to get a comprehensive picture that goes beyond just the numbers.

2. Schedule a Private Conversation

When it comes to addressing underperformance, setting the right tone is crucial. Arrange a one-on-one meeting with the employee in a private and neutral space.

Select a time that ensures an open and focused discussion. Try to avoid interruptions or overlapping commitments during this time. This way, both you and the employee can dedicate the necessary time to address concerns and explore potential solutions.

3. Communicate Clearly and Positively

Initiate the conversation by conveying your genuine intention to support the employee in their professional growth and improvement. Start on a positive note to create an atmosphere of collaboration.

Clearly articulate the specific areas of concern, highlighting examples of underperformance. Be precise and direct, avoiding vague statements. Providing concrete examples helps the employee understand the specific issues and areas that need focus.

In choosing your words, prioritize constructive language. Give feedback in a way that motivates improvement instead of triggering defensiveness. This method fosters a supportive and solution-oriented conversation. It highlights the chance for growth and not just points out weaknesses.

4. Listen Actively

Engage in active listening, allowing the employee to openly share their thoughts, challenges, and concerns. Avoid interruptions and focus entirely on what the employee is expressing. Grasp not only the words but also strive to comprehend the emotions and nuances behind their communication.

5. Collaboratively Identify Solutions

Shift the conversation from identifying issues to a collaborative problem-solving approach. Encourage the employee to actively contribute to this process by sharing their ideas for improvement. Make it a two-way conversation where their input is valued. Discuss how these suggested solutions can be implemented effectively.

6. Develop a Performance Improvement Plan

After working together to find solutions, the next step is making a clear plan for improvement. This plan sets out specific goals, expectations, and timelines.

A solid plan is thorough and practical, dividing large goals into smaller tasks. For instance, if someone has trouble meeting project deadlines, the plan might include goals like better time management, setting smaller milestone deadlines, and regularly checking progress.

Example of Performance Improvement Plan:


  • Enhance Project Deadline Management


  • Improve Time Management:
    • Attend a time management workshop within the next month.
    • Implement at least two time management techniques learned from the workshop within two weeks.
  • Set Smaller Milestone Deadlines:
    • Break down upcoming projects into smaller tasks with individual deadlines.
    • Submit a proposed project timeline for review within two weeks.
  • Regular Progress Reviews:
    • Schedule bi-weekly check-ins to assess progress and address any encountered challenges.
    • Adjust the plan as needed based on feedback and performance.


  • Complete all assigned tasks within the revised deadlines.
  • Actively participate in the implementation of new time management strategies.
  • Demonstrate improved project planning and execution skills.


  • Attend time management workshop: [Date]
  • Implement learned techniques: Within two weeks of the workshop
  • Submit proposed project timeline: Within two weeks of goal setting
  • Bi-weekly progress reviews: Ongoing until further notice

7. Provide Necessary Resources and Support

Once the Performance Improvement Plan is in motion, assess whether the employee has the required tools and support to meet outlined expectations. Determine if additional training, resources, or specific support mechanisms are necessary for success. If so, offer assistance in overcoming obstacles and provide clear guidance on how to access these resources.

8. Set Regular Check-Ins

Smooth communication ensures the effectiveness of each improvement plan. Arrange frequent check-in sessions to track progress and tackle challenges encountered in the enhancement process. These meetings act as a forum for offering positive feedback, acknowledging advancements, and making essential modifications to the plan when needed.

9. Recognize and Reinforce Positive Changes

Acknowledging positive changes is crucial for maintaining motivation and encouraging ongoing effort. Regularly provide positive feedback to the employee, recognizing improvements in their performance. Reinforcing positive changes creates a supportive atmosphere and motivates the employee to continue their growth.

10. Evaluate Long-Term Progress

As the improvement plan unfolds, assess the employee’s long-term progress against the goals set in the Performance Improvement Plan. If significant improvement is observed, continue providing support and encouragement to sustain the momentum. However, if challenges persist, it may be necessary to reassess the situation and consider further actions, including potential consequences.

Final Thoughts 

Handling underperforming employees is a vital leadership skill. It goes beyond solving problems; it’s about establishing a workplace where your team feels motivated and empowered. Keep communication open, collaborate on solutions, and remember to recognize positive moments.

As a manager, actively contribute to the growth and success of your team members. Embrace these best practices to establish a work environment focused on continual improvement, professional development, and achieving success for each person and the whole team.

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