5 Tips for Talking About Poor Performance

poor performance

5 Tips for Talking About Poor Performance

Rochelle van Rensburg | Jun, 1 2021

How to Talk to an Employee About Their Performance Without Hurting Their Feelings: 5 Essential Tips



One of the most significant challenges managers face is how to react appropriately to poor performance in the workplace. You may have a great team of highly skilled and trained employees, but the inevitable issue of an employee not meeting expectations is likely to pop up sooner or later.

According to an article in Harvard Business Review by Ron Carucci, the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to poor work performance in the workplace, with employees who were successful in the office now underperforming in the remote workplace.

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Managers often resist dealing with these situations as they could lead to denial and finger-pointing if not handled correctly. Managing poor work performance can raise many different issues in the organization, which is why these situations need to be handled with effective strategies and the utmost maturity.

This is why organizations need to train their managers effectively to address poor performance in the workplace. If managers know how to talk to an employee about poor performance, the problem will be sorted out positively, and the team will be more productive.

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Before we go any further, let’s look at what causes poor work performance. According to Forbes, the following three obstacles cause workers to perform poorly in the workplace:

Not having the skills to do the work.
Inadequate training will lead to mistakes which will increase over time if not addressed timeously.

A lack of motivation.
Unmotivated employees are disengaged and unhappy. If not managed effectively, it will reduce productivity and affect the company culture.

A workplace environment problem.
If employees don’t have the necessary resources to perform their job and if the workplace is devoid of appreciation, job performance standards will automatically drop.

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But how do you know an employee is performing poorly? Here are a few poor job performance examples:

  • Inability to cope with a reasonable volume of work to a satisfactory standard.
  • A poor work attitude, for example, a lack of commitment and poor interpersonal skills.
  • Poor work standards, e.g., not following a job through, inability to cope with instructions, and making frequent mistakes.

We now know the main causes of poor performance in the workplace, and we’ve looked at some examples of poor job performance. Now for the next step: how to discuss poor performance with an employee.

How to talk to an employee about performance will always be a sensitive issue, and giving tough feedback is never easy. Remember – an employee can’t improve if you don’t tell them what they’re doing wrong.

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5 Tips for Talking to an Employee About Their Performance

Don’t wait too long to address performance issues. The sooner you address them, the easier it will be to resolve them. Be specific about the behaviors or results that are not meeting expectations. Here are 5 tips for talking to an employee about their performance

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1. Don’t delay the conversation, and let the employee know your concern.

Delaying the conversation will only escalate the problem. Keep in mind that the goal of addressing poor performance is to change the employee’s behavior.

Be respectful and don’t engage in small talk to postpone the issue. Often, when managers talk to employees, they’re hesitant to engage in difficult conversations because they fear employees will become upset. This is where you have to be strong as a leader and let the employee know it will be a difficult conversation about serious performance issues.

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2. Be specific about unacceptable behaviors.

If you want to correct an employee’s behavior, you must discuss the behavior in detail and provide examples. If a co-worker witnessed the behavior, ask them to attend the meeting.


3. Explain how the behavior is affecting the team and what the expected behavior is.

It’s important to tell the employee how their behavior is negatively affecting the team and the company. Explain what the acceptable standard is and what they can do to achieve it.

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4. Ask the employee to suggest a solution for the situation and explain the consequences if the matter isn’t resolved.

If you let the employee suggest possible solutions to remedy the problem, there’s a better chance that they will “buy into” the situation. Also, be clear about what will happen if the situation isn’t resolved; for example, it might mean not being eligible for a promotion or lead to disciplinary action.

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5. Agree on a follow-up date and express your confidence.

After the employee agrees to improve their performance, set a follow-up date to discuss the progress and assure them that you’re confident they can correct the situation.

One of the most important things to remember when discussing poor performance with an employee is not to jump straight into disciplinary action, such as dismissal. Instead, allow the employee to correct the situation and improve their performance. Counseling an employee on poor performance and providing an improvement plan will let them feel secure and help them correct the problem.

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Here’s what you can do when counseling an employee on poor performance:

  • Investigate the situation further.
    Speak to other employees, managers, and witnesses to make sure you have all the facts.
  • Schedule a private meeting with the employee.
    Have a meeting in private with the employee and keep a record of the discussions. Allow the employee to respond and take their comments into account.
  • Develop a performance management plan in collaboration with the employee.
    A performance management program reflects the employee’s role in the business and provides measurable benchmarks for assessing the employee’s performance. Keep a copy of the plan in the employee’s file.
  • Set a follow-up date.
    Make provision for further dates to review the employee’s progress.

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This brings us to the next step: how to write someone up for poor performance.

Writing up an employee for poor performance isn’t something anyone looks forward to because it’s often a sign that an employee is headed down the route for termination. At this point, you’ve probably put in a lot of time and effort to help them remedy their behavior with little or no improvement.

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Here are some steps you can follow when you write up an employee for poor performance:

  • Document the problem and take care not to do it when you’re angry.
  • Use company policies to back you up, Include statements from witnesses, and set expectations for improvement.
  • Deliver the documentation in person, keep a copy for your records, and follow up.



Talking to an employee about poor performance is one of a manager’s most challenging tasks. By addressing the problem timeously and following the right steps, disciplinary actions or dismissals will be avoided ensuring a positive and productive company culture.

Coggno has a wide range of online courses on managing poor performance in the workplace. You can have a look at our free courses here and our course catalog here.



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