#Workplace #Working Wisdom

How To Manage Underperformers

Evelyn Hiew
by Evelyn Hiew
Nov 30, 2022 at 11:08 AM

Handling underperformers on the team may be one of the most challenging and time-consuming responsibilities for HR leaders. It’s no fun spending huge amounts of time figuring out how to get demotivated employees to be more engaged and perform better at work. And it’s equally challenging to have hard truth conversations with employees experiencing a mismatch between their skills and the new demands on the job.

But managing these particular performers is also one of the most essential tasks an HR leader must do. If you truly want a high-performing team, you can’t just put up with underperformers all the time. Not only is it demotivating to others, especially your high-performing ones, but tolerating a member’s lack of contribution could destabilize the whole team on all levels. 


How do you distinguish a high performer from a low performer?

There are several distinctive characteristics that you can find in employees which can dictate whether they are high performers or low performers. Here’s how to recognize them:

  • Going the extra mile - High performers frequently exceed expectations regarding their job or tasks. Underperformers, on the other hand, often do the bare minimum.

  • Self-driven - Top performers understand the importance of setting goals to keep track of their achievements and stay on top of their targets. Underperformers will only perform the tasks handed to them without setting goals.

  • Values constant feedback - High performers often seek feedback from their supervisors and actively act upon it to improve themselves. In contrast, low performers are less likely to be interested in feedback and will not seek or act upon it. 


Factors why an employee may not be performing:

  • They may lack the necessary skills and knowledge to perform the job

  • They may have the skills but are mismatched to the job

  • They may have a fear of taking up new challenges and avoiding risks and failures

  • They may lack the motivation and drive to push themselves

  • There may be underlying issues with the supervisor or other team members

  • There may be external factors in the company that are affecting their behaviour


3 ways to manage low-performing employees

#1 Analyze potential external factors

The first step to take when managing underperformers is to examine external factors that could lead to poor performance. Before concluding that the lack of performance is entirely the employee's fault, inspect everything around them and try to identify the underlying issue, as this will help you manage the situation as best as possible. It could be the unrealistic workloads they’re carrying, poor communication among team members, an uncomfortable workplace environment, or the lack of resources and manpower to do the job. Try to solve the issues within your control; if not, have one-on-one meetings with them to figure out how you can help. Alternatively, you may also decide to transfer the employee to a more suitable role in your company that highlights their strengths and matches their skills better.


#2 Motivate or praise them when they’ve done something right

Often, the most common and innate reason for low performance is the lack of motivation from burnout or boredom. And one of the easiest ways to help improve that intrinsic drive is to praise them more frequently.

Instead of reminding employees about their poor performance, smart managers often praise the same people when they perform well. This is because when employees feel you’re constantly commenting on their flaws, they’re less interested or receptive to new feedback. But if they know you’re trying to bring out the best in them, they’re more likely to accept your feedback and act upon it wholeheartedly. Even if there isn't much praise, try to catch them doing something right. It may be something small, but it could build up the employee’s confidence and motivation with time.


#3 Give feedback that is specific and optimistic

Speaking of giving feedback to low performers, most managers often complain about their performance in general without giving much input on how they can perform better. This would lead to a higher level of demotivation and a lack of direction (feeling ‘lost’) on the employee’s part. 

The 2 most important things when giving feedback are to make them specific and optimistic. ‘Specific’ refers to outlining exactly what behaviour was observed and offering them action plans they can take to improve and perform better. ‘Optimistic’, on the other hand, means that you deliver this feedback in a positive way, telling them you believe in their potential and ability to make real, productive changes. 


#4 The goal is to help underperformers improve, not to fire them.

Following the above actions, when done right, can help increase the chances of turning an underperformer into a top performer. And with these remedies in place, you will have more time to devote to your star performers and build a high-performing team in the company.

For more HR-related content, visit our HR Library!