Written by Pete Wilkinson

Last updated 21 September 2021 ·

Effective Performance Management - 4 steps to managing an underperforming team member

It’s always a tricky one. You might like the person a lot and get on like a house on fire during non-work-related conversations or social events. However, as their manager, you also need to manage their performance in the workplace. This is when it becomes difficult.

Many people have a problem with being assertive and leave it too long to tackle those robust conversations. Here are four simple steps to managing poor performance and being assertive with an underperforming team member.

1. State the situation

Here you want to deal with FACT. Always stick to the facts that support your reason why their performance is not as expected, e.g. they may have committed to conducting five client scoping calls per month and but they are only managing to do three. Having clearly identified objectives and responsibilities outlined for each role dramatically facilitates this fact-finding exercise and avoids any possible misunderstandings concerning expectations.

For more information on structuring objectives and clarifying what each team member should be working on, check out our blog Improve employee engagement and team performance with shared goals.

2. Encourage open and honest communication

Don’t leave difficult conversations until performance review or performance appraisal time. If one of your team members is not achieving their objectives or underperforming in any way, this news should not surface for the first time during annual appraisals as a surprise. Stay close to your team members and address any issues or areas of concern as they arise in monthly 121’s or weekly catchups so that the person can rectify these whilst they are small and easier to tackle. Check out our blog Communication is key! Open your mind with NLP to learn how different communication styles can result in different outcomes.

There may be external factors impacting someone’s performance, so open and honest communication is essential to encourage them to speak up and confide in their manager. For more information on what a good 121 schedule looks like, check out our blog Imagine a culture where your team asks for a 121.

3. Tell them the way it makes you feel

Here you can deal with feelings, be honest and tell them how it makes you feel that they are not following a procedure, e.g. updating the CRM or following up on sales calls the way they agreed. Inform them of the impact their underperformance is having on wider business activity, so they can begin to see this from your point of view and realise their importance.

4. Discuss the consequences and find a solution

This is the vital part that is often missing. The situation must be rectified, and the person in question is given the opportunity to improve their performance. Discuss how to move forward and encourage them to offer ways to solve this problem to improve their performance. Do they require some additional training? Do they need to be better focused with their time? Do they need to reassess their objectives? In some cases, more severe measures may be necessary, such as introducing a performance review plan, reporting their work more frequently or formalising processes to increase visibility.

In short, if someone is underperforming in your team, state the situation, encourage regular, open and honest communication, help them realise the impact this has on the wider business and work together to find a solution. You can do all of this respectfully, and ideally, such difficult conversations can be more effective if carried out in a different location to their usual place of work.

Having well-cascaded objectives and key results (OKRs) throughout every business level provides clarity and allows employees at all levels to focus on the work they can do to impact overall business performance. Employees are aware of their roles and responsibilities, their importance, and what is expected of them within a given time frame, thus making difficult conversations much less required. For more information on OKRs, check out our blog What are OKRs or get in touch with us directly by emailing We are always happy to help.

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