As a manager, you have a lot of processes to keep an eye on. Your success is not defined by your own work, but by the results of people you manage. And underperformers can significantly hurt the team’s results (and your own success).

The dilemma of many managers out there is: should I fire underperformers or give them a chance to improve? What do I do if they do not improve and we lose time and money?

It is important to approach underperformers carefully, in a thought-out manner. Otherwise, you risk hurting your reputation as a manager and the company’s profit.

Resolving the dilemma

As a manager, you have increased responsibility. You need to work efficiently by yourself and you need people on the team to keep up.

However, you also need to be an inspirational leader so people can trust you. But how do you combine camaraderie with strict management, especially when handling the underperformers?

The trick is: you don’t. As a manager, your primary task is to manage, not to be popular. Of course, you need to be a good leader and treat people with respect. But that does not mean you should sacrifice the quality of work for a good attitude.

Therefore, as soon as you identify an underperformer on a team, you need to approach the person and try to resolve the issue as soon as possible in order to retain results and meet deadlines.

Invite them for a conversation

First things first – you need to know the exact reason why a person underperforms.

Personal issues

One of the main reasons for low performance is personal issues. It may be sickness, divorce or similar troubles that distract someone from work.

In this case, the best you can do is give someone time to resolve those issues and get back to work. You have the opportunity to gain trust and loyalty when you treat situations such as these with understanding and genuine concern.

Lack of training

Another common issue that happens is simply a lack of training and/or skills.

If a person is assigned to something they cannot do, it doesn’t matter how much time and effort is dedicated – the results won’t show up. And this is a problem related to poor management.

If a manager cannot assess skills and assigns wrong tasks to the wrong people, this will inevitably lead to problems.


Another issue related to poor management is misunderstandings. If you set the wrong goals, or don’t explain tasks well enough, that could be a reason for underperformance.

If people don’t know what you want from them, how can you expect good results?

Tip: During any conversations to clear up misunderstandings, keep your emotions in check and be ready to listen before making any assumptions.

Come up with a plan

Once you define the problem behind poor performance, you can come up with a plan for improvement.

Offer help

First, offer help (if this is possible). Suggest courses, areas for improvement, and training. It’s possible that low performance stems from a lack of skills or knowledge, and that individual is too nervous to ask for help. So your task as a manager is to guide the employee in the right direction and give actionable advice.

Listen to their preferences

It’s possible that someone is assigned the wrong tasks that are in conflict with skills and interests. So listen to the employee and find out whether they really like their job or are there any other things they’d prefer to do.

The right allocation of resources and proper task assignment are the driving forces behind the company’s success. Every person is talented in something and a manager should unveil these talents and find an appropriate use for them.

Define deadlines

Once you agree on the improvement plan and the employee understands what you wanted to communicate, you need to define deadlines so they can follow a plan and show tangible results.

During this period, monitor their performance and reward improvements. Always provide a timely follow-up so the employee knows how they are doing.

What if the employee did not improve?

If, after an appropriate period of time, the underperformer doesn’t show any progress or willingness to improve, it’s time to say goodbye.

Even though it is an unpleasant procedure, it is usually the best for everyone. In this case, the manager will stop spending time and effort on a below average employee and will be able to focus on more important tasks. As for the employee, s/he will get a chance to find a more suitable and stress-free position.

Note: during the improvement process, do not forget to document everything. This is in case the employee decides to appeal against your decision, you can always prove your point with documented evidence.

Final word

Before, during, and after the probation period you need to provide underperforming employees with constant support and guidance.

Another important issue to evaluate yourself and your managerial skills. Ask yourself: do you provide timely and informative feedback, and do all your employees understand what needs to be done?

When a manager and team works together and communicates efficiently, you get results. So, when evaluating the employees, dedicate some time to perform a self-evaluation as well. This will help you improve and master the skills needed for efficient management.

About the Author: Jocelyn Pick