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Tips to manage underperforming employees

Great companies are often regarded as only being as good as their staff, so getting rid of the bad apples, or encouraging them to take a different motivational outlook on work, is crucial for managers.

The big question manager’s face is how should you manage underperforming staff? Unfortunately, there is no one ‘magic tablet’ that will ensure that all staff instantly achieve ideal performance targets – but there are simple and effective management strategies that can help.

The EI Group believes there are specific reasons that employees are underperforming, including:

  • Failure to understand and engage with the greater purpose of the business;
  • Not knowing what they should be doing or what they are expected to do, and the consequences for the organisation;
  • Not clearly understanding what the consequences of non-performance for him or herself will be;
  • No clear objectives or time frames;
  • Not having the required skill set;
  • Accountability for poor performance is not being enforced;
  • Not being rewarded or recognised for good performance;
  • Being obstructed by inefficient processes;
  • Work which does not address the need for challenges or being creative; and
  • Lack of personal motivation to perform optimally.

According to El Group CEO Ben Thompson, underperforming staff often have a negative effect on staff and client service.

“One of the keys to managing underperforming staff is to focus on the reasons of underachievement, and tailoring the performance management techniques to suit the issues.”

With this in mind, the EI Group offers the following six tips to performance manage underperforming staff:

1. Use progressive discipline. Focus on helping employees understand that their performance is not up to standard and help them be aware through regular feedback and the impact of their performance
2. Keep records, of your informal and formal discussions, to demonstrate your attempts to improve the situation. Managers should have a performance management system checklist to refer to
3. Issue appropriate warnings. It may be difficult to prove that an employee is underperforming if they have been doing the same job for a long time without criticism or warning, it is important to highlight what is expected of them in all instances
4. Provide opportunities to improve. Keep your employees skills fresh and up to date by providing appropriate training and support
5. Assess your management style. Any good manager audits their own performance. Managers should ask themselves, ‘Am I managing performance in the right way? Am I able to offer guidance, good communication and a clear understanding of the implications of non-performance?
6. Make sure you comply with the Fair Work Act. Ensure you are fair to the employee and comply with Fair Work Act laws and disciplinary procedures in the case of dismissing them. Get expert advice if you are in any way unsure what constitutes a fair disciplinary procedure.

Lorna Bretthttp://www.dynamicbusiness.com.au
Lorna was Dynamic Business’ Social Web Editor in 2011/12. She’s a social media obsessed journalist, who has a passion for small business. Outside the 9 to 5, you’re likely to find her trawling the web for online bargains, perfecting her amateur photography skills or enjoying one too many cappucinos. You can follow her on Twitter @DynamicBusiness


  1. Thanks to @RobinDickinson for pointing me to this article! A few thoughts come to mind…

    The phrase ‘Improve, Move or Remove’, comes to mind as I read this. It’s simplistic in wording yet it fits with the suggested strategies above. The phrase applies to both the under-performing employee and the (struggling) manager. To the employee: improve your performance, move to a better suited position; or remove to another organisation. To the manager: improve your skill, style and approach to the employee and the situation; move the employee, or the tasks/responsibilities around the employee; or remove the barriers that are causing the situation.

    Taking the time to understand what’s causing the performance issues is key to knowing how to move towards resolving it. Taking the wider angle view of looking, not just at the employee, but also the environment in which the employee works will allow for better insights into the culture and overall performance.

    Managers also need to be role models of what is expected; praise those who are also performing as expected (and not in a token way); and when an under-performer does do something right, acknowledge it to reinforce it.

    In the training room, when one participant has been continuously disruptive, I will address it but there’s been a profound effect when other participants (peers) have commented directly to the person. Peer-pressure one might say! Is there a peer who could support and encourage the under-performer to improve their performance? Warning though, the manager can’t dump this on another employee, this is not a scapegoat option!

    If this is an ongoing pattern, then my first ‘red flag’ is to review the recruitment process. What is happening that the organisation is employing under-performers? Has the job description not been clear enough, does the screening, interviewing and reference checking have gaps that need plugging?

  2. Communication betwwen staff and their duties has yet to be sreamlined to better communicate with their prospective or active clients . Case in point is when a customer or client call a business, the first contact by phone is the receptionist and if they are not well trained about the organization they could be forwarding the call to the wrong person thus causing the customer to get irritated and the company loss of time when the wrong staff receives the forwarded call

  3. Actually, an employee will be called an “under-performer” only after checking his performance for couple of months or 3. So, as you have mentioned firing is not the only option, companies must give them additional time and target and give a deadline too.

    Hiring and Firing might be common now a days, but when an employer is firing an employee for under-performance, it means they are loosing a quality resource. I believe the problem is with lack of motivation and lack of interest.

    If an employee is motivated, his performance improves for sure. And its very important to keep track of all performance related factors and features, so that the outcome can be guessed accurately.

    We normally conduct activities that help employees feel good and use tools that does not disturb employee freedom to check their performances. Some tools to help employees improve their performances, such as tools that track time, projects, sales, etc. plays a motivational part. Replicon’s employee time tracking software is a tool that helps us in understanding time usage and basecamp gives us accurate details on projects and proceedings. So tools of this kind makes the complete process of resource management healthy…

    Hope what I shared was interesting…


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