Performance Management: How to manage underperforming staff
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When a member of your team is underperforming, you can’t just fire them straight away. There’s a formal performance management process that has to be adhered to before you can legitimately dismiss them.

The process ensures that you have communicated the goals of the business clearly to the staff member and agreed with them what their role is in meeting those goals.

Here’s what’s involved in the Performance Management process you should follow when a member of staff isn’t producing work that’s up to scratch:

1. Find out the reason for poor performance

Speak to your employee and, when you raise the subject of their poor performance, ask them if there’s a reason behind it.

Being understanding and kind at the outset can pay dividends in the long run. It could be that there is a personal issue meaning their work is not at the right standard.

Are they going through a divorce or have an ill relative? Whilst you may prefer staff to leave personal issues at home, in reality, that isn’t always possible.

If they have a health issue, you may need to tread carefully. Disability discrimination claims can cost employers a lot of money. And the definitions of disability are probably broader than you think.

Understanding the issue means you are more likely to be able to help. If it turns out that there is no underlying personal or health issue, and it is simply a lack of knowledge or skills to get the job done then you may consider starting a programme where you monitor the employee’s performance.

2. Help the employee to understand how their performance is below expectations

In your discussion with the employee, it’s worth remembering the following principles:

  • Be clear about what the problem is with the staff member’s performance, giving specific examples of when it’s been below par, so they understand exactly what they need to improve.
  • Listen to any feedback they may have which could help you to understand how to proceed.
  • Offer support to the employee — either with additional training or extra supervision. Keep detailed notes of conversations, the employee’s progress and the goals you agree.

These points are critical. Should you move towards dismissal later on, you are required to prove that you have listened and done everything you can to help the employee perform at their best.

3. The performance management process explained

Once you’ve identified the problem and ruled out any health or personal issues you can proceed with the formal performance management process. Sometimes also known as a capability process.

Note: if you discover that the problem is actually due to bad behaviour, i.e. your employee has the skills to do the job but can’t be bothered (and you have evidence of this) you would use the disciplinary procedure instead.

The performance management process mirrors the disciplinary procedure in terms of there being a series of formal meetings, warnings and appeals, but the focus is on improving performance and therefore it focuses on three areas — goals, monitoring and feedback.


In the first formal meeting with the employee, you should suggest tangible goals for them to achieve. Ensure it is something you can really measure, as this will help any arguments for dismissal — should it come to that. Examples of measurable goals may include the number of phone calls they make in a given period, the number of sales they make, arriving to work on time consistently.

You must also, crucially, have the employee agree to these goals. It’s no good imposing a set of targets that they feel incapable of achieving. If they don’t agree you will start the process with a demotivated employee, and you will fail to see improvement.


Monitoring should take place over a ‘reasonable’ time period. This will usually be a minimum of a month, and can be as many as three depending on your business. You can’t expect for an underperforming employee to change over night, as their issues affecting their performance won’t change like this either. Try and give them the benefit of the doubt and consider their behaviour over a longer time period.


Speak to the employee throughout the process about how they are performing, or underperforming, providing constructive feedback. You should look at how they are performing against their agreed goals together. This also helps to ensure there are no surprises.

At the end of the agreed time period you must decide whether to move forward with a disciplinary procedure or take no action. If the employee has performed well but not achieved the goals you may decide to extend the monitoring a little longer, or give them some additional training.

4. Is the employee’s behaviour the problem?

One thing to remember when thinking about the performance management process is to ask “is it because they can’t do it, or won’t do it?”. This can help you understand whether the underperforming employee and lack of interest is due to bad behaviour, which is much harder to change.

If it is the case that they “won’t” do the work to an acceptable standard, then you could proceed directly to the disciplinary procedure.

Working with your staff to improve their performance and investing in their skills can have all sorts of benefits across your workforce. Happy, motivated employees will help push you up the hill to achieve your business goals.

By holding regular performance reviews, you can help to keep your employees on the right track and delivering in line with your expectations. It’ll also help you to identify any underperforming employees and the issues causing it, and any challenges they might be facing sooner rather than later.

Our HR software can help you to manage the appraisal process from start to finish, from booking in a date to setting future objectives. If you are struggling with an underperforming employee and need support, our experts are also here to help.

Get in touch on or give us a call on 0333 014 3888 to find out more about our easy to use HR Software.

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The content of this blog is for general information only. Please don’t rely on it as legal or other professional advice as that is not what we intend. You can find more detail on this in our Terms of Website Use. If you require professional advice, please get in touch.

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