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How to deal with underperformers

Sooner or later each manager or team leader comes across a person who may not perform as people would like him to perform. Situation very often is not so obvious. I had such a situation many times, when was working with people during my career, and I collected some tips that may help you up. My advices are collected based on books, blogs and my experience. Give them a try. You do not have to implement all of them at once but you will have a toolset with proper tools. Most of them are aimed for team leaders and managers, however some of them can be applied for scrum masters as well. ​​​​


I started realizing that in ideal world people understand what others expect of them. Imagine a situation that you come to work day by day. You try your best but still you feel that something is wrong. You feel that people are not happy working with you this same as your manager. You do not know what you should do to improve. Not nice, right? Before you start confronting with “underperformers” ask yourself those questions:

  • Has this person been told what you, your customer and teammates expect of him?

This should be done during onboarding process and periodically reminding.

  • Does this person understand that his underperformance has impact on the whole team, customer and organization?

Not everybody is an asshole. There are people who really cares about team relations. Help them understand.

  • Does this person have skills that are required to take care of tasks that are assigned to him?

If not you should take care of that. You have many possibilities here like mentoring, trainings, books etc.

  • Do you have regular meetings with this person and you told him that he is underperforming?

  • Have you heard what he thinks about this situation?

  • Do you really know this person as a person?

Many times I have seen that managers or leaders threat their employees as resources, because they are “resource managers”. This is just bad.


Make sure that this person is not in the wrong job. There are situations when people perform lower because they are forced to do things that they not want to. I know that there are situations when some specific task needs to be done. And this task is boring. But remember that providing that tasks all the time will bring you no good. If the situation is a rule consider some changes.

III If you have underperformer in your team you need to act as fast as possible. If you don’t, your other teammates may see that you accept that kind of behavior. You are sending a message to your team telling “hey, this is ok that you are not trying your best”. Show them that you care.

IV Rush is not a good advisor. Act smartly not rapidly. First collect data, observe situation and what influence it has on the surroundings. Write specific situations that occurred down with time frames. Understand all the factors that may had influence. Very often what you see on first sight is just a tip of the iceberg. If you want to act you need to have proofs, numbers, KPIs, tracks of the bad behaviour, feedback of colleagues - also with data. If situation become serious and this person goes to HR or you want to go to HR and start dismissal process you need to have hard proofs.

V Feedback is your friend. Before reprimanding your teammates for his or underperforming, give as much feedback as possible. If the quality of the work has decreased significantly, speak to the employee. Communicate what's changed, how the person's approach should be modified and the time frame that's been granted for turning things around. Sometimes all people need is a small push in the right direction. Feedback is really important that is why I started from it. Be prepared for the feedback. On the other hand remember that anyone can have a worst day.


Keep your emotions on leash. Emotions, especially those negative, helps nobody. They may blurry your judgment and show you from wrong perspective.

VII Build trust and take care of proper communication. I like to talk with people during our one on one meetings that take place every two weeks. Remember that communication is a two-way highway. People are not resources they are people. You need to build trust. If they trust you they will be more willing to share with you problems and ask for your help and guidance. They will be more open. You should try more coaching approach. Listen what they have to say. Ask how they can improve the situation.


Understand motivators and motivation in general. This is very important topic. During my career I met many people who think that motivation is easy and obvious. Well, it is not. Take your time to know your people. What they like to do in work and what they do not like? What are they aspirations, where would they like to improve? Find out what are their long term goals. This will give you a bigger picture. But work with them on short term goals that give motivation bust in shorter time and are easier to plan and track. Some time ago my manager asked me to prepare my ideal week. I had to put in time activities that I’d like to do in my work, showing how much time I want to spend on them. This is a great exercise and I really recommend you to use is as well.

IX Create growth plan together and help your people implement it. Knowing motivators is a good starting point. Ask people how they would like to improve, what they would like to achieve and the new skills they want to learn. There are coaching models that can help you and your people with growth plan preparation. I really like to use GROW model based on SMART goals. Support people, track their progress and provide feedback.


Show people the bigger picture. I find it difficult to spend many hours on task when I do not understand the reason why I do it. Many people feel this same. When you delegate task make sure that this person to whom you delegated it, knows the reasons behind it. Help your team members clearly understand how they are adding value to the larger strategy. Highlight the impact of not delivering this task to the customer. This is one of motivation principals. People like to know that their work is being use for the greater purpose.

XI Show that you care and people are important for you and for the organization. Showing that you are interested in their hob can be a very positive “kick in the ass”.

XII Recognition, recognition and recognition. Everyone likes to be praised for achievements. How to recognize and when is a very big topic. I will let you to think it over. I will just highlight you simple example that we have in my current project. Once a 3 month one person from the team is nominated as top performer. The whole team take part in the survey and choose one person who significantly help the team. This person gains 2 additional days for trainings. Another think is recognition box that was introduced by ours agile coach. This is physical box where people put sweets. When someone do something good, that help others his colleague can give him a reward as gratitude gift. Very often just saying simple “Thank you, I appreciate what you did” can be a good motivation booster.

XIII When you tried what you could and it did not work you have no choice but to start working more formally. You need to show that you are serious. Start with verbal warning. Ask for help your HR department. Provide evidence. That is why I highlighted that this is important. If this did not work deliver written warning with data. Include dates and times of previous conversations related to poor performance. Start working on time bounded get – well plan. If at any time the employee’s work doesn’t meet the standard, terminate the plan and terminate employment.

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