Most people on any team will perform to a certain standard or higher. Unfortunately, most organizations have at least a few people on the bottom of the rung. Chronic underperformers are employees who consistently do not meet standards for productivity or output.

Having a reconciliation process in place for all employees is important because routinely firing underperformers will often decrease morale and lower productivity for a team. Yet you can’t just leave them be since an underperformer can drag down the performance of an entire team.

Recognizing and taking steps to correct underperformance is an important first step before issuing notices, offering final warnings, or terminating a contract. Often, you will find that underperformers can improve, but it’s up to you to discover how and when.


Understand the Root Causes of Performance Problems

No one purposely performs badly. Instead, people become demotivated or handicapped through a variety of often interconnecting problems, resulting in slowly worsening performance. In most cases, you can discover what those issues are by reviewing the individual, their work habits, their home/personal life, their skills, their manager, their team, and their work environment.

This step is hugely important because it impacts your ability to help. If you can identify what’s wrong, you can take steps to solve the problem. Here, a series of personal interviews, work assessments, personality assessments, and competency assessments may be a good idea. Talk to both the individual and their team about how well they fit into the team, how skilled they are in their role, interpersonal conflicts, communication, and so on.


Offer Coaching and Mentoring

Coaching and training can help an individual to master specific skills, to realize what they are doing wrong, and to make shifts in thinking that might be holding them back.

For example, if an individual seems to be performing badly because they’re demotivated, offering coaching to help them see the value of work and to empower them in their work would be a remedial action.

Similarly, if their problem is poor communication, you could remedy the problem with emotional intelligence coaching. Coaching is useful in areas where individuals are afraid of change when they have made a role change but haven’t changed perspective to meet that role, when they need to make behavioral changes to increase performance, and when they have to shift how they think to improve.


Make Role and Team Changes

In some cases, poor performance is caused by poor job, role, or team fit. You can see this when individuals are isolated in teams when management style doesn’t fit the individual when a poor manager is leading the team, when teams are full of interpersonal conflict, and when individuals don’t like other members of their teams.

It can also be seen when an individual’s role is no longer needed in a team (for example if they don’t receive a lot of work), when they no longer have the necessary skills to meet how their job has evolved, when they are overworked and therefore overstressed, and so on. If you can recognize these problems, it’s important to take remedial action to solve them.

You can also make role and team changes to help individuals manage personal problems. For example, if your employee is struggling with performance after having a baby, you could offer a flexible work schedule so that he could work from home a few days a week and change hours around as needed, rather than losing sleep.


Development and Training

Development and training can work to close skill gaps, to prepare individuals for upcoming changes that may be causing bottlenecking, and to prepare individuals to take on more responsibility, improve communication, or learn skills such as emotional intelligence. Development is intensive and a time investment, so you should only undertake it if the individual shows strong motivation to improve.


Ensure the Employee Understands their Role and Contribution

Motivation is a key aspect of improving performance. One of the easiest ways to drive motivation is simple empowerment. Ensure that everyone knows what their role is, how that role contributes, and what their daily work leads to in terms of company results. It’s also a good idea to ensure individuals have ownership and full responsibility for the direction and end-results or quality of whatever they are working on.


Most people want to perform well and will do so when given the opportunity and tools. Taking this approach will help you to improve performance while building morale, decreasing employee turnover, and negating the need to let someone go.