When a Team Member is Underperforming

When a Team Member is Underperforming

July 10, 2024


A team member is just not pulling their weight. Have you been there? Most of us have but knowing that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.

It’s a delicate situation that’s uncomfortable for the manager, the employee, and the rest of the team. Handling it well calls for calm, clarity, and compassion. As the manager, it’s your job to find a solution that has the best outcome for the employee, the team, and the organization.

There is no easy “one size fits all” formula for handling an underperforming employee, but here are five things that you can do to create a positive outcome for all concerned.

Determine the root cause of the problem. Is the employee aware that their performance is not meeting the mark? If not, why not? Is it an issue of attitude or capacity? This is a time to ask open-ended questions and listen actively. This will not only help you identify the root cause but also show the employee that you care about their well-being and development.

Clarify the performance expectations. Sometimes, under-performance is simply a result of unclear expectations. Ensure that your team members know exactly what is expected of them. This includes clear job descriptions, specific goals, and measurable outcomes. Regularly communicate these expectations and provide feedback on their progress. When employees understand what success looks like, they are more likely to strive towards it.

State the performance expectations in specific and measurable terms and attach a time frame for their achievement. Make sure you are clear about the consequences of not meeting these expectations.

Identify shared solutions. Create a plan for moving toward the performance goal that includes what the employee will do and what you as the manager will do to support the employee in improving performance. This may include providing training, offering more frequent feedback or being flexible with schedules to accommodate personal needs.

Make sure that the solutions are consistent with your organization’s values and culture. This will provide a point of common reference that supports both the employee and the organization. When the employee and the manager both have a role in crafting the plan and each has responsibilities for reaching the goal, the investment in success is mutual.

Recognize and reward improvement. Acknowledging and rewarding improvements, no matter how small, can be a powerful motivator. Recognition not only boosts the employee’s morale but also reinforces the desired behavior, creating a positive cycle of improvement.

Be patient but persistent. Be realistic about how quickly an employee can make the improvements you require. It may take time for skills to be learned or for personal situations to be resolved. Regularly follow up with the employee, provide ongoing support, and adjust as necessary. Consistent effort from both sides is essential for sustainable improvement. Remember, the goal is not just to address the immediate issue but to ensure long-term success.

Dealing with under-performing employees is challenging, but it also presents an opportunity for growth—for the employee, for the team, and for you as a manager. With clear communication, shared commitment, sufficient resources, and a caring approach, you can turn poor performance into positive performance.

That way everyone wins.