Top Tips for Managing Underperformance

September 14, 2018

In his latest blog, Nuhman shares his top tips for managing underperformance.

By Nuhman Sharif

It can be challenging as a line manager to pull someone up for underperforming, particularly if you tend to shy away from these difficult conversations. However, underperformance can’t be ignored, as the longer you leave it, the more complicated it becomes. There’s also a perception that if you address underperformance, the situation will inevitably end in dismissal which isn’t always the case! Sometimes, addressing performance concerns can result in a more competent and dedicated employee.

As HR professionals, we regularly help SMEs with matters like this, so here are my top tips on how to manage underperformance:


Have a robust performance management process

Any process you follow must be clear and the best approach is to have a policy in place to guide you. This also has the added benefit of ensuring the employee understands the process that will be followed and the potential consequences if their performance doesn’t improve.


Don’t delay!

It’s tempting to kick things into the long grass, but this only makes things worse! Also, the employee has a right to know you have performance concerns, so they have a chance to put things right.


Address performance concerns informally at first

It’s important not to go in all guns blazing to begin with! Having an informal chat with the employee and understanding why their work is not up to scratch is a great starting point. You can then set some expectations in terms of improvements and monitor this on an informal basis.


Ensure you have an up to date job description

In some instances, underperformance is a consequence of an employee ‘fighting too many fires’, as a result of it not being made clear to them where their responsibilities lie. Having an up to date job description is a great way of defining the roles and responsibilities the employee has, bringing some much-needed clarity to the performance management process.


Ensure it’s a 2-way, collaborative process

The key to making sure the performance management process is effective is to ensure the employee has a voice, can raise concerns, and can even suggest the kinds of training/ support they need to successfully improve.


Don’t forget welfare

As a line manager, you need to show compassion and understand the potential stress the performance management process is having on the employee. This is often forgotten.


Don’t forget to consider mitigating circumstances

There can be genuine reasons why an employee is underperforming such as a disability, mental health issue or family circumstances. In these instances, it’s important to gain a better understanding and think about the type of support that could help them. For instance, would an occupational health referral be appropriate? Or if the employee is ex-military, would a call to Combat Stress to better understand conditions such as PTSD be the way to go? Don’t forget, there are loads of great charities out there, plus we can also help with signposting the best organisations to contact.


Set ‘SMART’ objectives

This is really important, as it not only gives the employee a fair chance to improve, but it also demonstrates to a tribunal judge that a fair and proper performance management process has been undertaken.


Be prepared for a possible grievance

This can happen. In some instances, it’s genuine, but at other times the grievance is triggered by the employee to try to halt or even derail the performance management process. In either instance, the best course of action would be to investigate and conclude the grievance before resuming the performance management process. However, each case is different, and we’d be happy to give advice based on the specific circumstances.


Keep your emotions under control

As previously mentioned, the performance management process can be quite stressful for the employee, so they might get emotional! In these circumstances, it’s important to keep your cool and objectively address the employee’s performance concerns.


The support you offer needs to be realistic

As part of the process, you will decide on the different ways you will support your employee. Make sure you only agree to things you can actually deliver based upon your own work schedule and commitments.


Think outside the box when it comes to training and support

There are many innovative approaches to training, so get those creative juices flowing! Another thing to think about is who could deliver this training and support. It doesn’t necessarily all need to fall on your shoulders – you could assign a buddy or ask other managers to help deliver certain aspects of the training.


Document, document, document

This is really important and can fall by the wayside. Keeping detailed notes from review meetings, examples of poor performance, training undertaken etc. can really help, not only so you know what stage you are at, but also this would assist a tribunal judge in deciding whether a fair process was followed.

Need some help with managing underperformance? Just get in touch with the team!

Leeds based HR180 is a team of superheroes in HR Outsourcing, Projects and Consultancy committed to work in partnership with organisations of all sizes to establish working policies to go above and beyond Employment Law requirements, to protect both employees and employers alike. We love to hear from you, so call us on 0113 287 8150 or hit the Rescue Me button.

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