how to deal with an underperforming employee

How to Deal with an Underperforming Employee (Actionable Tips)

Underperforming Employee

Our case study today looks at how do you deal with an underperforming employee. Do you sternly tell him what he needs to do or else?  Do you express your concern and leave it to him to fix it? Do you lightly mention the concern, so as not to offend him, in hopes that that will remedy the situation?

The Situation

Erica oversees three teams as a project manager at an IT firm. The company likes to promote from within for its management positions. But for that to happen, Erica must develop the potential of people who report to her, like Rob.


During the last quarter, Rob’s team has had some problems maintaining quality standards. Erica is a Q4 boss most of the time — she communicates well and positively motivates her team to high performance.

What To Do If an Employee is Underperforming

However, when conducting performance reviews, she often drifts into Q3 overly agreeable behavior, especially if she needs to address performance issues. Intellectually, Erica knows she should bring up the quality issues on Rob’s team, but she is uncomfortable addressing the topic with him directly.

How would you handle Rob’s underperforming issue in a Q4 assertive way?

Dimensional Model of Behavior

You Make the Call!

A.  Meet with Rob, quickly review the quality concerns, and get his assurance that he’ll refocus his team.

B.  Let Rob know that, going forward, such quality issues will not be tolerated, and give him 60 days to work out the problems.

C.  Use your performance review with Rob to get his perspective on why quality has been slipping. Then work together to develop a plan for solving the problem.

How to Coach an Employee Who is Underperforming

Here’s Your Q4 Answer!

Hi, I’m David Rowan, VP of Organizational Consulting and I’ve got the Q4 answer.

Why is it so hard to give feedback?

Many managers and leaders dip into one of two types of behaviors when giving feedback. Sometimes they’re too critical and harsh, using a Q1 style. Other times they’re too breezy and gloss over the real topic, which is Q3.

What’s so bad about Q3? Isn’t it good to be kind?

Q3 may feel kinder and gentler; however, without honest and open feedback, it’s hard for employees to grow. Rob can’t solve the quality problem without Erica’s encouragement and honesty.

What’s the Q4 Answer?

The good news, it is possible to be direct and kind simultaneously using Q4 behaviors. The answer is C.

What Q4 behaviors should I use in difficult conversations?

Effective Q4 behaviors include honesty, directness, with a kind and open tone.

What are some Q4 strategies to use in a performance review?

Balance your feedback. Include both things that have gone exceptionally well, strengths, successes and wins, as well as opportunities for improvement and growth.

Any other tips?

Open the door to a discussion by asking Rob what his perspective is on the underperformance issue. When Erica does this, she should include things like what’s in it for him to have this discussion and how he can benefit by examining his performance and looking for opportunities to make improvements.

To recap…

When talking through performance issues, remember to stay future focused. This can help keep things positive and oriented towards solution focus. That’s keeping it Q4.

Thanks for watching and we’ll see you next time.

Beyond Underperforming Employees

Now that you have mastered how to deal with an underperforming employee, here are some additional resources you might find helpful.

Check out our blog on how to conduct a best practices performance review.

If you would like to learn more leadership skills, our Learning for Leaders page is chock full of resources:  40 more leadership tips, white papers, books, and more!

If you are ready to progress from learning about leadership to putting your leadership skills into action, visit our leadership development page. You’ll find leadership workshops, individualized coaching, 360 feedback, and more.

Lastly, receive more tips and event updates by signing up for more monthly newsletter.

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