We asked seven workplace experts for their number one tip in dealing with an underperforming employee

Tips from industry experts

How do you manage an underperforming employee? To get a quick take on best practice we consulted seven of Australia and New Zealand’s workplace experts.

Collected here are their seven different perspectives – a great resource that you’ll want to bookmark for next time you need to deal with underperformance on your team.

Colin D Ellis says you need honesty, empathy, and to be timely:

Colin is a project management expert who is all about leading teams. He’s all about pushing aside process and getting results. But when those problems come from within, Colin has some tips for managing your team.

Colin’s view: “My number one tip for managing an under performer is to be absolutely honest about what could be improved as early as is possible, but be empathetic at all times. As a leader you have a responsibility to create an environment of learning and growth not one of fear.

So listen hard to the issues they face then work with them to provide the support and knowledge to help them succeed. And don’t forget to look at yourself and ask what more you can do to support them achieve their goals.”

You can reach Colin here. Or you can have his project management experience all to yourself through his website.

Amanda Sterling says it’s as simple as active listening and trusting your instincts:

Amanda Sterling is an organizational development practitioner and one of the lead contributors to Her background is in L&D (with an increasing focus on communication and social media).

Amanda’s take on underperformance management:

“I think my tip is deceptive in its simplicity. It would be: have a conversation with your under performer, actively listen.

It’s something that I’ve had to do and not that well. Retrospect is a useful thing. If I had to do it again I’d like to think I’d take my own advice.

My second tip would be to trust your instincts. If you’ve really listened, I mean really listened, you should have a sense of what really needs to be done and that might be different from what your head is telling you. Again, I’ve learnt that one the hard way.”

Amanda loves to tweet, I’m sure she’d love to tweet you too. Otherwise you can keep up to date with all the latest New Zealand HR news through

Lynne Cazaly says writing the conversation down keeps the conversation clear and focused:

Lynne Cazaly is an author, speaker, mentor, and facilitator. Lynne uses her expertise in visual agility to educate clients in management processes and drive employee engagement.

Lynne’s perspective: “Have a conversation. And a visual one at that.That means you’ll need a note pad, marker and be switched on and listening and visually capturing what you talk about.

Ensure the conversation and communication is ‘three point’; that is, you and the team member talking are ‘two point’ communication. Bring in a third item, a flip chart, note pad or white board to handle what could be an awkward or challenging situation. It helps make the content and conversation clear, focused on objective information and helps avoid the tension or loss of face that can occur in conversations like this.”

Follow Lynne on Twitter here. Or go to her website to learn all about visual facilitation.

Karen Gately says take the direct approach with tough love:

Karen Gately used her knowledge in managerial methodology, combined with her background in teaching and karate, to develop new ideas in the HR and management space. She’s written two books on the subject, and practices her skills in her own boutique HR consultancy.

Karen’s take on underperformance: “The single most important aspect of a people manager’s approach to managing under performance is tough love — that is, being completely honest while delivering feedback with compassion and sensitivity.

An empowering and respectful process, tough love demands that you deliver fair and necessary feedback with conviction and kindness. While telling the truth can be an opportunity to help people understand and take ownership of their performance, if not delivered well it won’t work.

Brutal honesty on its own can be destructive or inspire defensiveness. Avoiding the truth, on the other hand, can be equally damaging as it holds people back from reaching their potential and ultimately succeeding.”

You can tweet Karen here, view her blog here, or reach her HR consultancy here.

Jon Windust: Feedback, feedback, feedback.

Jon Windust is the CEO at Cognology. He’s been building talent management software for over ten years, and deals with over 250 Australian clients.
Jon’s #1 tip: “The important thing in dealing with an underperformer is to always be forward looking and encouraging. This can be difficult, particularly if a person is having a negative impact on the team, but the process will fall apart if it doesn’t remain forward looking.
Once a person has been identified as an underperformer, the feedback gap needs to be reduced. If a person is going to change, they need more immediate and frequent feedback to adjust their course. This means weekly and even daily one on one sessions. They don’t need to be lengthy, but it’s important to reduce the feedback gap.

The process looks like this:

  • Meet one on one with the team member.
  • Provide very clear and specific feedback on the issue and its impact.
  • Ask about roadblocks and any other issues the person believes is affecting their performance.
  • Encourage the person to come up with a solution.
  • If they cannot, provide a solution.
  • Set short term goals around the solution (ie. daily, weekly).
  • Provide development if needed.
  • Provide daily/weekly feedback on the goals.
  • Document the feedback, goals, development, and daily achievements.
  • Repeat until resolved or all reasonable avenues are exhausted.
  • Maintain focus on the issues and avoid making personal criticisms.”

You can follow Jon on Twitter here.

Scott Brown says underperformance starts right at recruitment:

Scott Brown is a hiring and recruitment expert with over 15 years of experience. Scott also does presentations on hiring best practice, internal systems, avoiding hiring mistakes, and how to plan for staffing increases.

Scott’s perspective: “Is there a problem with the employee’s engagement within the business, or misaligned skills and abilities? Engagement underpins performance, and engagement is always a result of hiring and induction.

With technical skills often receiving the greatest weighting during the hiring process, and more cultural fit (behaviours, attitudes or personality) ignored or glossed over, often it is this that directly relates to poor employee performance.

If an employee feels they are not a clear fit for the role, or they were not properly inducted into the structure, nature and processes within the role, almost instant disengagement can occur leading to clear performance issues.

Combine the hiring and onboarding failures and there is a real problem with the workplace environment. Statistics suggest that poor hiring and onboarding leads to failure rates of over 50% of new starters.

If poor performance is a perceived problem, and it can be traced back to the hiring or onboarding process– and yes it is the most common culprit – you will need to review these processes and requalify the employee’s skills AND behavioural fit.

From there, structure the role to properly accommodate the newly qualified traits, whilst concurrently, ensuring the culture of the team is properly engaged to allow the employee to regain confidence and role definition.”

You can follow Scott on Twitter here. Or check out his website for the latest in recruitment.

Helen Blunden says look at skills, knowledge, and abilities. Don’t make assumptions:

Helen Blunden is the founder of Activate Learning Solutions, where she works with businesses to solve their performance problems. Her background in learning makes Helen the ideal professional to ask about employee underperformance.

Helen’s #1 tip for managing underperformance: “My #1 tip for managing an underperformer has been based on Mager and Pipe’s model on analysing performance problems which explores whether the person has relevant skills, knowledge and abilities to do the job as well as exploring the environment in which their performance must be demonstrated.

We also take into account their roles, expectations of the job role, the resources they have available and the consequences for performing or even underperforming. When dealing with underperformance, we need to delve under the surface and seek out the real reasons and rectify those as opposed to making assumptions.”

Follow Helen for great learning tips.

Thanks to all our thought leaders for participating. We’d love you to jump into the comments and add your own tips for managing underperformance on your team …