Underperformers – a Recurring Issue

– How to Tackle Underperformance


Workplace Relations

A very common problem many of our clients face is how to handle underperformers. Unfortunately, most organisations have to deal with this issue and for some, it seems to be a perennial problem.

Here’s some bad news: there’s no magic formula that can make underperformance disappear at once. The only way to successfully tackle the issue is to get to its root cause. Now, here comes the good news: there are a few proven ways to get to the bottom of the problem. 

You can either use the classic ‘Ask Why 5 times’ method, or engage in root cause mapping, or you could even examine your processes and procedures to determine contributing factors. And here’s the even better news: most people really want to do a good job, and often it’s the organisations themselves that are unwittingly contributing to the cause of underperformance.

Initial areas to examine when considering how to tackle underperformance

1. Role Clarity – Does the employee have sufficient clarity about their role? 
A good first step is to ensure the role is defined via a position description. Make sure that the incumbent has clear objectives about their role in the organisation. Without this, how can (under)performance be objectively and fairly determined?

2. Competency – Once the role is defined, we can determine the required competencies. Is the employee underperforming due to lack of competency in a required area? A competency is made up of skill, knowledge, and experience. Can the competency be taught or can it be addressed via secondment or exposure? Can the incumbent be coached or mentored whilst they gain the necessary experience?

3. Personal issues – Performance can sometimes be affected by personal issues in the life of an employee.  Take the time to ensure the person involved is provided with an opportunity to discuss any personal aspects, which may have a bearing on their performance. Note: be mindful of their right to privacy. 

4. Evidence of underperformance – Consult with other managers in the organisation to determine the reasons for underperformance. Be open to observations, such as lack of resources, and be prepared to objectively investigate reports of poor attitude or breach of company policy and procedures.


Dealing with underperformance

Ensure you have a factual (objective) base for addressing underperformance, including:

  • Description of expected performance;
  • Description of actual performance;
  • Description of performance discrepancy or gap;
  • Description of consequences for performance improvement or failure to make sufficient improvement.  

Conduct a meeting to review performance, providing the employee with procedural fairness, including:

  • Ensuring the employee is sufficiently informed as to the purpose of the meeting and any issues regarding their performance that they will be expected to discuss;
  • Ensuring the employee has sufficient time to prepare for the meeting;
  • Keep an open mind and modify responses/conclusions as necessary;
  • Discuss the areas for improvement and the methods of reaching the required objectives;
  • Agree on an action plan for improvement and the timeline/s for improvement.

Depending on the issues and extent of underperformance, as well as the urgency regarding time and outcomes, a series of follow-up meeting should occur over the next weeks or months. Typically, the process can take up to three months.  

If successful, an ongoing conversation about performance and two-way feedback can assist with creating a positive long-term outcome. If not successful, a formal disciplinary procedure and associated consequences should be adopted.


Design • Implement • Support

Through our blog, we wish to give you a comprehensive insight into the world of Intrepidus HR, where our overall goal is to inspire businesses to improve themselves and their people.

Do you wish to discuss a particular business improvement topic or even contribute a guest Blog article? If yes, please contact Simon Campbell at Intrepidus Human Resource Consulting.

If you or your organisation requires input or assistance in establishing or enhancing your positive organisational culture, please contact Intrepidus Human Resources Consulting for assistance.  Intrepidus can assist with the design, implementation and support of employee surveys, analysis and action plans, employee briefings, and employee communication and engagement initiatives. 

Furthermore, contact Intrepidus for assistance with one on one performance feedback for teams and individuals and all your complex human work issues.


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Intrepidus Human Resource Consulting

Intrepidus is a human resources and industrial relations consultancy based out of Melbourne. We help clients with difficult people issues, HR & IR strategy, and more. If you want to find out how we assist with workplace issues, you can contact us at info@intrepidus.com.au  or give us a ring on +61 401 716 818.