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How to manage an underperforming employee

How to manage an underperforming employee

A crucial skill for a team leader is being able to drive positive results and communicate effectively in order to achieve this. The new way of working means that job duties aren’t as clear cut as they used to be, meaning that an agile workforce that is flexible to change and resilient to challenges is going to ultimately obtain success. 

When a team member is facing performance issues, the manager is responsible for ascertaining the reason behind why this is the case, as well as subsequently guiding the individual to an improved level of work. Here are the vital steps a team leader should take when managing an underperforming team member.

Keep your dissatisfaction private from other team members

A dialogue about an employee’s performance should remain on a one on one basis. If mistakes are being made in front of peers, do not react immediately, and allow the implications of these errors to settle on both yourself and the employee in question. When appropriate, hold an informal meeting away from others to encourage a safe space.

Understand why they are underperforming

Figuring out the reason behind a problem is a major step towards finding out the solution.  A good manager will not jump to conclusions but will instead demonstrate empathy by trying to understand the underlying issue. If the reasons are personal, for example, working towards a flexible working agreement could be one of the ways to drive a more successful result. If the root of the problem is ingrained in the workplace, consider if the employee has been given clear enough instructions, or if they are overwhelmed with the workload. Asking the right questions can be the initial step in establishing a healthy dialogue.

Clarify the implications

For an employee to improve upon themselves, they must be able to recognise how their performance impacts the team and the wider business, as well as their own career progression. This is not the opportunity to make threats about job security but rather to explain how mistakes can have trickle effects into other areas of the department and beyond.

Collaborate on a solution

In the new world of work, working together means that new ideas take priority over experience – creating a richer end-result. Implementing a plan of action with the employee can smoothly kick-start the process, allowing them a degree of autonomy over their own role and performance. If, for example, the employee is lacking skills in certain areas, give them the opportunity to research the most appropriate training courses and schedule time in their working days to brush up on crucial knowledge. Additionally, consider questions such as:

  • What can we do, together, to prevent these issues in the future?
  • What are we doing to ensure your improvement?
  • What can other members of the team do to contribute?

Follow up

In ensuring a regular but non-invasive monitoring process, the employee will be able to communicate their workload, progress and continued areas of concern. Offer positive feedback to reward them for any improvements; communicating appreciation is a simple but valuable way to keep struggling employees on the right track.


The world of work is in a state of change. If you are seeking innovative ways to evolve your business' workforce, don't hesitate to reach out with your concerns here!

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