Strategies for Managing Poor Performers: A Guide for Business Leaders

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Effectively dealing with underperformance within a team is a crucial aspect of leadership. During the coaching of business leaders, a common challenge that is raised to Stoke Consulting is the difficulty faced in managing a poor performer. Whether it’s a shortfall in attitude, results or team alignment, recognising and promptly addressing this issue is vital.

Neglecting to address an underperforming employee’s behaviour can yield significant repercussions. It consumes valuable managerial time, damages relationships with stakeholders – including clients and team members – and can impact the mental well-being of both the employee and often their colleagues. Tolerating such behaviour sets a detrimental standard for others.

Identifying whether the problem lies with the employee’s performance or is a symptom of the managerial approach is an initial step in this investigation. Following are recommended actions for a manager dealing with ongoing performance issues:


Step 1: Setting Clear Expectations As a manager, it’s crucial to ensure the employee comprehends their role and associated expectations. This involves:

  • Providing a detailed Position Description;
  • Sharing an up-to-date Performance Document;
  • Listing clear Success Factors;
  • Coaching on the Situational Leadership Model and mutually agreeing on the applicable current segment – directing, coaching, supporting, or delegating;
  • Engaging in discussions tailored to the employee’s preferred learning style and assessing their understanding; and
  • Regularly meeting with the employee and offering genuine feedback.

Step 2: Providing Constructive Feedback Offer the employee specific feedback regarding performance gaps, using a structured approach:

  1. Seek permission to discuss;
  2. Clarify your intentions;
  3. Focus on observed behaviours, not the individual themselves;
  4. Describe the impact of these behaviours;
  5. Ask, listen and understand the employee’s perspective;
  6. Clearly identify and agree upon the desired change; and
  7. Maintain transparency and avoid sugar-coating or conflict avoidance.

Step 3: Establishing Performance Actions Agree on and formalise specific Performance Actions with the employee, outlining the potential consequences of not rectifying their behaviour.

Step 4: Monitoring Progress Allocate an agreed-upon time for behaviour modification, providing regular feedback and comprehensive documentation to prevent misunderstandings.

Step 5: Categorising Employee Status

  • Category 1: Employee is Part of the Future – Strongly invest in their development. Consider offering coaching.
  • Category 2: Undecided – Set a definitive timeframe for your evaluation. Longer than three months seems excessive and might indicate that you, as the manager, are avoiding a difficult decision.
  • Category 3: Employee is Not Part of the Future in Current Role – Plan and execute a transition process

Considering the risk involved, it’s crucial to ask: Is it worse to retain an underperforming employee for an extended period or to professionally and decisively manage the situation (with the risk of possible associated challenges)?

In most cases, tolerating prolonged underperformance poses greater risks, leading to possible substantial business losses and negatively impacting the organisational culture. Following a professional and well-documented process to address underperformance reduces risks and legal implications.

Are you facing challenges managing underperformance in your team? Reach out to Stoke Consulting via for tailored consultation and strategies to address improved leadership effectiveness. Our expert guidance can help transform your team’s performance to a high-performing path and assist you to achieve sustainable success.

Chris Read
Stoke Consulting

Leveraging his extensive leadership and entrepreneurial background, Chris consistently leads high-performing teams of leaders to outstanding business achievements. He excels in unravelling the intricacies of challenging business scenarios, crafting strategic plans and fostering deep trust including during executive coaching. This comprehensive and high integrity approach significantly elevates business performance for his clients, helping them to exceed expectations.