Getting Them Back to Their Best: How to Manage Underperforming Staff

Posted on October 2015 By Speller International
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​Underperformance can be a real and crippling issue within teams. In an SAP environment where projects often have tight turnarounds there isn’t a lot of space for people to be off their game. So as a manager, how do you deal with staff who aren’t giving work their all? There are a number of reasons why someone might not be performing as well as they should, which means there are a number of ways to address these issues, here are a few ideas.

Start with Talking

Talk to your employee, often work related issues stem from things that are easily changed or fixed, or temporary issues in a person’s work or personal life. Ask your employee about their work, try to get an idea of what might be causing their underperformance. They may not realise their work is not up to the expected standard or they may not know that whatever is distracting them is affecting their work.

Once you’ve established that there is a problem, talk some more: what motivates your employee? How do they like to work? What style of management helps them to achieve their best? By being open to small tweaks on your side, you lead by example and encourage change in your staff.


Set a plan of what you want to achieve using the ‘SMART’ methodology:

Specific: What do you want to achieve and what will this look like?

Measurable: What aspects about the plan measure success?

Agreed: Have both employee and manager agreed to the terms?

Realistic: Is this plan genuinely achievable?

Time: How long do you expect this plan to last for?

Once you have the basics hammered out, keep on top of your SMART plan with your employee. Remember to:

  • Put them on a performance management plan and stick to it

  • Set realistic targets to hit daily, weekly and monthly

  • Make it clear there will be consequences if they don’t hold up their end of the agreement

Follow up is key, if you put a plan in place and set expectations which are agreed upon then you must meet daily, weekly or monthly to follow up and see how they are tracking. Are they meeting/not meeting the expectations and are they aware of this?

Similarly, reinforcing positive changes with praise is crucial to staying on track – positive feedback helps your employee to get a good idea of what ‘doing a good job’ looks like. On the flip side, if their behaviour is not good enough, give them this feedback immediately in a constructive manner. Often, people slip in performance because they have a lack of understanding around what they should and should not be doing.

So what if the plan doesn’t work?

Sometimes, even the best-laid plans don’t come to fruition. People aren’t up to the challenge or sadly, they are just not the right fit for a role. In these cases, it’s time to bring the consequences you discussed when agreeing your plan into action. This can be difficult, particularly if that consequence was severe. However if you have provided every opportunity to improve their performance then it is a justifiable consequence.

If you have set all necessary goals and provided reasonable support and training, then at the end of the agreed timeframe if your employee is still not performing, do not be afraid to let them go.

Remember: keeping underperforming people or those not suited to a role can be a drain on the team and you. Letting underperforming staff go shows other team members that underperformance is not an accepted standard. At the end of the day, your responsibility is to the team, the project and those who are prepared to put in the work. Keep focused, be fair and have high hopes and most performance issues can be remedied.