I’ve had the dreaded performing convo more times than I can count.

It usually goes like this:

Manager: Someone on my team isn’t performing. 

Me: What feedback have you given them?

Manager: None. So should I fire them?

Me: No. 

If you’ve JUST had this conversation or one like it, I have something for you. 

Today’s edition dives into how to get performance back on track. 

Two things you need to consider:

  1. What’s at play?
  2. What’s the plan?

Let’s look at what I mean!

What’s at play?

There are many reasons an employee may not be performing, like:

  1. Lack of clarity in expectations: unclear expectations leading to uncertainty about what to work on. (most commonly at play!)
  2. Skills and knowledge gap: the employee may not actually have the skills or knowledge to execute their tasks well. 
  3. Low motivation and engagement: an employee who isn’t engaged may feel disconnected from their work and might not perform their best. 
  4. Poor work environment: ineffective leaders, toxicity, high stress, and interpersonal conflict can all negatively impact an employee and their performance. 
  5. Personal problems: an employee may be facing problems outside of work that end up impacting their performance. Things like family problems, financial stress, illness, etc. 

Getting to the root cause of what is really going on will be important when supporting the leader AND the employee. 

Here are some of my favorite questions to ask managers to assess the situation:

  1. What tasks or responsibilities does the employee struggle with? 
  2. What feedback, if any, has been directly shared with the employee?
  3. Have you noticed any patterns or recurring issues?
  4. How would you describe the employee’s engagement or motivation?
  5. Are there any external factors that could be impacting the employee?
  6. Have you observed any behavioral challenges or attitude issues?
  7. Are there any obstacles or barriers that are preventing the employee from achieving their tasks and broader goals?
  8. Have there been any changes to the employee’s workload or responsibilities?
  9. Is there anything in the organization or team culture that could be influencing the employee’s performance?
  10. What strategies do you think could be helpful to address the performance issues? (a great manager will have ideas here!) 

Something to look out for: some managers will instantly blame the employee rather than taking accountability. 

Spoiler alert: A manager’s job is to set their team up for success. Meaning if someone on their team isn’t performing it ultimately falls to the manager to take accountability. 

Just sayin’. 


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Once you know what issues are at play you can work with the manager to set the plan. 

What’s the plan? 

I love a good plan when it comes to performance. 

Now, some folks hear performance issues and instantly think – Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). 

To PIP or not to PIP, that is the lifelong question… 

Here’s my take: I’ve seen PIPs leveraged more to CYA than to actually help the employee. 

If you actually want to fix employee performance and retain talent you shouldn’t jump to a PIP. 

Here’s a better plan: 

  1. Check in with the employee. I feel like this step is sometimes skipped but a good manager will want to know if there’s something holding an employee back. Creating a space for an employee to share their view of the situation creates trust. Nothing will wreck the situation faster than a manager comin in hot saying you’re not performing and completely lacking awareness of the situation. By doing this first prior to sharing feedback you might learn something that would impact the feedback being given. 
  2. Give actionable feedback directly to the employee. If the manager didn’t learn anything new during the check-in the next step is to share feedback about performance. The feedback must be actionable, feature examples and discuss the impact. It should be delivered verbally and in writing. In writing is crucial because some employees may hear one thing and think another. When you follow up in writing you give the employee an additional way to process the feedback. And as shi**y as it sounds, in writing creates documentation that a conversation is being had about performance so no one is confused. 
  3. Check in weekly on the feedback. An employee won’t change overnight, this will be a process. Checking in weekly helps ensure things are on the right track. The manager has the opportunity to celebrate changes being made, reinforce the behavior they desire, and continue to correct any behavior that needs to change.  
  4. Have a back up plan. If the employee does not respond to the feedback, the situation does not improve and the manager and you agree that enough effort has been dedicated, it might be time to consider something more serious. At this point a lot of folks would move to PIP but some would also consider terminating. It comes down to your organization’s  preference. 

The bottom line: Some employees will not thrive in your environment. 

The caveat: If you realize that the employees that aren’t successful in your environment all belong to underrepresented groups then something is wrong with your environment… 

I’m going to dive into that next quarter, so stay tuned. 

Additional reading on feedback:

Q2 Loading… 

I really cannot believe we’re here already… Q2 HERE WE GO. 

I spent most of Q1 writing about performance and all the problems we face as HR leaders trying to get our employees, managers, and leaders to perform. 

Q2 is all about how you can actually retain your talented employees because spoiler alert: they could be just not that into you… 

Until next week, see you in Q2!

Hebba Youssef
Hebba Youssef

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