You’ve worked with managers to set Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). Each team member is receiving continuous feedback. You’ve built out development plans. You’ve done your best to set each team member up for success, but some are exhibiting poor work performance. Now what?

This is bound to happen in any organization, but the solution can differ based on your culture and values, your team, and the cause of the problem. If you find yourself needing to address poor work performance, here are 6 things you can do.

Work closely with your managers

Your managers are a tremendous resource in understanding and solving issues around poor work performance. Work in tandem with them to learn more about the problem, and support them in the ways they need. Offer guidance and resources to help them improve their team’s performance and reach goals.

Keep in mind that your managers might also be the root cause of the performance problem. For example, if they aren’t communicating goals and progress well, or if their leadership style doesn’t jive with the team. There may be times management training and development is the best way to support better team performance.

There may also be times a manager would benefit from HR stepping in to handle poor work performance—or when it is necessary for HR to get involved. Keep an eye out for those situations so they’re handled properly.

Ask and listen

Poor performance can be due to any number of factors. Your team member could be dealing with their own health issues, or those of a loved one. There could be problems at home, like a divorce, financial stress, or childcare disturbances. Or the issue may be internal to your organization, such as poor management, communication, or recognition. 

It’s important to have a candid and empathetic discussion with the team member in question to find out what’s going on. Ask your team member if there’s anything holding them back from doing their best work, and provide a safe space for them to share their thoughts.

Then work together to come up with a solution. Perhaps your team member needs some time off to address challenges in their personal life or combat burnout. Maybe they need different tools to perform their best work, or development to master new skills. Find a solution that your team member is comfortable with, and that you feel will help improve their performance. Then document your performance improvement plan (PIP).

Provide a variety of development opportunities 

When performance is related to skills and abilities, the right employee development opportunities can better enable your team members to reach their goals. These might include:

  • Online learning subscriptions
  • Educational courses
  • Leadership coaching
  • Mentoring
  • Conferences
  • Office lunch and learns

Offering a variety of development opportunities can help each team member find something suitable for their learning style, schedule, and goals. For instance, one team member might prefer the flexibility of online learning, while another might prefer to learn in a group setting.

Offer recognition when it is due

Only 45 percent of employees are completely satisfied with the amount of recognition they receive. And when team members don’t feel valued for their contributions, engagement and performance can suffer. 

If this might be an issue at your organization, work on creating a culture of recognition among your team. Begin departmental meetings by asking team members to recognize their peers, and begin all-hands with some shoutouts from company leaders. Create a Slack channel or physical Praise wall in your office where team members can recognize others for work well done. And always include recognition in performance reviews by focusing on strengths, while pinpointing opportunities for development.

Recognizing the work you want to see will encourage team members to go above and beyond to reach their goals, and to continue developing their skills. This is particularly important for team members on a performance improvement plan (PIP), who would benefit from some recognition of their progress.

Performance Management Software

Play to each team member’s strengths

Poor work performance may be due to a poor fit between the team members interests and abilities, and the role they’re in. If that’s the case, look for opportunities to re-define the role or move the team member into another role they may be better suited for. 

This may require long-term planning, but put together a new development plan and set goals to help the team member get to where they want to be. Playing to each person’s strengths will not only benefit them, it will benefit your entire organization. 

Document and discipline

While poor work performance can often be addressed and remedied, sometimes it cannot. The team member may be a poor cultural fit, may have exhibited behaviors your organization cannot tolerate, or they may not have the skills and abilities your team needs.

Document each team member’s performance through regular reviews, and well as any applicable performance improvement plans or write-ups. Be clear on disciplinary procedures—and consistent in applying them. And, when necessary, be prepared for a separation.

Final thoughts on addressing poor work performance

Addressing poor work performance can be one of the toughest parts of your job, but it must be done. Work with your team members and managers to get to the root cause of the problem, and brainstorm how to properly address it. Give your team members the benefit of the doubt when needed, and offer additional support and encouragement to help them be the best versions of themselves. This won’t always be enough to overcome poor work performance, but it’s a step in the right direction.


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