How to Manage a Poor Performer in the Workplace

Speak to a Specialist HR Consultant

Fill out the form below and we will call you back to organise a meeting with one of our HR Specialists.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Home > Blog > How to Manage a Poor Performer in the Workplace

Having a poor performer in your team can be frustrating if they are continuously missing deadlines, not meeting targets and rarely pushing themselves to strive for the best outcomes. While it is easy to come to the conclusion that the worker may just be slacking off, it is important as a leader to take a big picture approach and consider what external factors may be contributing to their behaviour.

Two of the main causes of poor performance are lack of ability and lack of motivation.  If you initially hired the team member based on their skills, experience and ability to undertake the tasks at hand, they must be suffering from a lack of motivation.

So, how can you probe deeper to ascertain why they are lacking drive or if the poor performance is really due to a slack work ethic?

Check in with your team regularly

If your team member’s performance has been slipping for a while, but you haven’t taken the time to check in with them until things became really bad, you may be more responsible for the problem than you think.

Regular performance reviews, even informal weekly, fortnightly or monthly ones, are a great way of touching base with your team, finding out how their projects are coming along and assessing whether they are having any problems that may contribute to perceived poor performance.

If you are a manager who waits until annual performance review time to air their grievances with a staff member, you risk missing a pivotal moment to fix the problem and you also risk creating an atmosphere shrouded by animosity. On the other hand, by providing a regular opportunity to raise any issues, you are able to nip performance problems in the bud before they escalate.

It is important to remember that the team member may be underperforming in your view only. They may genuinely believe that they are doing a perfectly fine job and without a regular check in, you are losing the opportunity to set the standard and clarify what is expected of them. You may be missing out on the untapped potential that they are holding back because they do not feel the drive to push themselves.

Provide guidance

Once you have taken the time to work out the root of the underperforming issue, it is up to you, as a leader, to provide them with guidance. Were the expectations not made clear enough? Have you been moving the goalposts? Was the task simply delegated to the wrong person who now feels out of their depth and lacking the confidence to ask for help?

Help the team member to set some realistic objectives, assist them to come up with some ways they can reach them and then decide on a time to check back in with them to see how they are tracking.

You can now overcome these obstacles with the team member to help lift performance and create a healthy and open working relationship.

What else can a leader do?

If the issue isn’t one that can be resolved through performance reviews, there are other ways to help a poor performer lift their work ethic in a positive way. It could even be beneficial for you and the rest of your team.

By bringing in an external coach or allowing the team member/s to take part in a course so they can upskill, you may find that your team member was lacking in the level of experience or skill they truly needed to complete the project they were working on, or that they simply needed to be brought into line with the rest of the team. This can also be a great bonding exercise, too.

Consider that all of your team members have different strengths and weaknesses, and sometimes being weaker in one area is not the be-all and end-all, if their strengths complement the skill set of the other members of the team.

What shouldn’t you do?

Managing a poor performer, if done incorrectly, could be considered workplace bullying and harassment.

It is important to remember that you cannot simply remove all of the team member’s work because you are unhappy with it, cut them out of team initiatives, or demote them. Genuine performance management will not be considered as bullying, but if you are unsure about your performance management plan you should seek assistance from an employment lawyer or an HR professional.

A good leader becomes one by constantly guiding their team members to strive for greatness by motivating them, not by singling them out or reprimanding them. If you are dealing with an authentically hard worker, by taking positive steps to work out the issues and resolve them, you will be met with a positive response and the team member’s performance may even be greater than it was prior to when it began slipping.