Improve your business
Professional Development
The Ultimate Guide to Managing Poor Performance

The Ultimate Guide to Managing Poor Performance

Managing poor performance may seem challenging. Learn how to make an improvement plan, talk to low performers, and help your employees succeed.


We often need to break difficult-to-accept news to many people, including informing a colleague about their plunging performance. The reality, however, is that employees’ performance can fluctuate over time. And we can take actionable steps to avoid such situations.

Anyone can experience burnout or a rough patch in their personal life that affects their work. Perhaps this person is doing their best without realizing they’re falling short because they haven’t received feedback or guidance from their mentors or managers lately. 

If you’re dealing with a similar situation and wondering how to deliver constructive feedback, learn the ins and outs of managing poor performance, and engage in productive and supportive conversations with your employees. 

But before we jump into management areas, let’s examine why someone falls short of expectations.  

Causes of poor employee performance

Understand the common causes of employees’ poor performance to level with your underperforming colleagues. Here are a few triggers for slipping performance: 

  • Lack of ability or skills: Sometimes, employees may hit a wall because they accepted a new task but have no idea how to perform it. They might need access to training, guidance, and tools to enhance their skill set and boost their quality of work.   
  • Low motivation: A healthy work environment significantly affects employees’ success. People may feel discouraged after a negative experience at the office, harsh feedback, or other undesirable scenarios such as a pay cut. Conduct employee engagement activities regularly to make sure your staff members are taking a break from the 9–5 and are satisfied with the company culture. 
  • Difficulty: If an employee has more work than they can reasonably take on, they won’t be able to meet the unrealistic goals. They may be performing well, but their hard work isn’t translating into deliverables because they have too much on their plate. Track your employees’ day-to-day tasks to check your colleagues are not at risk of burnout.  
  • Personal issues: Sometimes, taking care of sick children, parents, or partners is taxing, directly impacting employees’ mental well-being. If someone is dealing with personal problems, speak with them to determine a solution and give them time to recover.

How to deal with nonperforming team members

You see an employee struggling, and it’s time to intervene. Here’s how to address performance problems in the workplace with a focus on solutions: 

  • Prepare for a conversation: If you’re pondering what managers should do first when faced with poor performance, start by preparing for a potentially emotional and difficult conversation with the employee. No one wants to feel like they’re letting their colleagues down. Remind your employee that you’re having this conversation because you value them, recognize their strengths and contributions, and want to help them succeed.
  • Identify the cause: Find out why the employee is having trouble at work. You’ll need to understand the root cause of the lack of performance to correct the problem. Ask your employee what roadblocks they’re facing, and encourage them to speak honestly about their work. Remember, don’t be judgmental, and listen with an empathetic ear.
  • Explain your observations: Share particulars and clear examples, and describe the problem areas in the employee’s work. If you’ve had several conversations with an individual about performance, highlight areas where you’ve seen improvement since your last discussion and what still needs work. 
  • Create an action plan: Good managers use a coaching approach to help employees outline solutions instead of delivering a write-up for performance issues. List out goals and the time frame for completing them. Ensure you provide your employee with the tools for success, including free online courses or training. 
  • Follow up: Stay on top of the deadlines in your improvement plan with your employees to hold them accountable for their goals. Schedule check-ins to discuss ongoing problem areas, and assure them they have resources such as you and other team members to seek guidance. Employees feel motivated to improve when they can trust their managers. 


Tips for managing low performers

You’re ready to have a tough conversation with one of your employees and help them chart a strategy toward success. Here are a few tips to follow:

  • Be quick: Don’t sit on negative feedback. Although sharing it is uncomfortable, a low-performing employee’s mistakes can impact their team and company’s success. Plus, it’s much more challenging to navigate a conversation that covers six months' worth of feedback than recent observations. The employee may feel overwhelmed and blindsided. 
  • Keep the conversation confidential: Remember, always praise employees in a room full of people but share improvement areas in a closed space. Publicly shaming someone only demoralizes them. Have a one-on-one conversation with your employee and only involve others (such as human resources) if necessary.
  • Don’t just prepare for the conversation; prepare for the person: Each employee may react differently to a discussion about poor work performance. While some might jump to action and offer to make changes, others could become defensive or anxious. Consider your previous observations of the employee’s interactions and make a plan for if the person breaks down or lashes out. Be compassionate and empathize with their situation. If you think the situation is out of hand, involve human resources.

Create a performance improvement plan

It’s important to record an employee’s goals and action items. This document comes in handy when you want to enforce accountability or show an employee how far they’ve come. Let’s delve a bit deeper into what this document should include. 

  • Needs: After actively listening to your employee’s roadblocks, pinpoint the skills, knowledge, or tools they need to perform better. Also, jot down any desires they express, such as switching projects or roles, moving to a new team, or stepping up their career ladder. 
  • SMART goals: Encourage employees to set individual SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) objectives to get a sense of direction and an action plan for the short term.   
  • A reward system: Ask your employees what rewards would be valuable. For example, if a raise or promotion is on the horizon, make this contingent on implementing the changes in the improvement plan. 

Improve your professional communication

Performance concern is one of the trickiest discussions for managers. The good news is that you’re not the first or last person to have this talk, and there are plenty of resources to help you hone your communication and coaching skills

Head to Practice’s blog and learn more about coaching relationships, effective communication, and the best practices for mentoring others. If you’re looking for more related and relevant pieces, read up on performance management, how to help your employees implement improvements, and how to give and receive feedback. Try us today.

Free content

Give your clients a simple and professional experience

Practice has scheduling, payments, client management, file storage and more — all in one place.
Try for free

Simple client management designed for teams

Delegate, collaborate, and oversee your client base across your team — without missing a step.
Learn more
Are you a coach? Take our quiz to find out if Practice is a good fit for you
Get started
Get a simple and professional experience for you and your clients
Get started
Text Link