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Managing underperformance and turning underperformers into top-performers

8 min read

People often confuse underperformance with poor performance. Both are different. Poor performance is when an employee is not performing well at the job due to factors like lack of skills, resources, plan, competency, etc.  

And how can one define underperformance? 

Underperformance is a case where an employee doesn’t perform to the expected level. Sometimes, an employee might be doing his work. However, he isn’t contributing to the team or is a bad influence, so the performance of the entire team gets affected.  

The root cause of employee underperformance isn’t skills, rather it’s things like lack of emotional intelligence, empathy, motivation, and more. If you want to lower the number of underperformers at your organization, having a robust performance cycle is a fine way to start things. Let’s learn more about it. 

Importance of Performance Cycle 

performance management cycle aims to improve business results by managing and improving the performance of the employees in a stipulated amount of time. This cycle involves planning, tracking, and reviewing performance. Setting goals is the first step of this process. 

Having a cycle in place is a prerequisite in identifying performance in a structured manner. Without it, you won’t be able to identify what to measure, and thus defining underperformance will become a tough task for any manager.    

To start, ‘what to question as an organization’ becomes vital.   

Performance benchmarks help you identify underperformers. For example, if you measure performance by the number of hours employees are putting in at work, that might lead to an incorrect hypothesis. Outcomes or results are what matters in most jobs. Therefore, set performance metrics based on job roles. You cannot measure the performance of two different individuals from different departments on the same parameters. 

While evaluating employees against each other, a powerful analytics tool will analyze the relevant data, consistency, and growth patterns. Individual assessment tools like 9-box and Bell curve evaluate an employee’s current and potential level of contribution to the organization in terms of performance and productivity. 

Leading Indicators of Employee Underperformance  

Imagine the amount of money your organization can save if you set the suitable objectives and identify underperformers before the performance cycle even starts. A whole lot of money, for sure. Knowing about the leading indicators and evaluating the last performance cycle will help you do exactly that: 

  • Measure effort by checking the time allocated to a task/project. If an employee is giving more time to a low-priority task, then productivity and outcomes will be affected. A timesheet software will help track this information. 
  • Check the number of leaves taken by an employee during the last cycle. If that number is high, then it might be the same in this performance cycle as well.  
  • Too many missing deadlines means trouble. 
  • Assess if there is a high number of complaints from either customers or colleagues. 
  • Check how well an employee communicates during day-to-day work.

To understand more about underperformance, regularly checking data should be a key part of diagnostics. 

Reasons for Underperformance of Employees 

Before pointing fingers, here are a few reasons why employees might be underperforming because of Managers, CEOs, or leaders in their organization. 

  • No regular check-ins to understand the pulse of employees. 
  • Prioritizing targets, money, and ignoring wellbeingsatisfaction, and employee health. 
  • Focusing on the wrong metrics. For example, writing low-quality articles instead of 2 high-quality ones. 
  • Not offering employees any trust and autonomy to do their work. 
  • Not offering constructive feedback and creating an environment where an employee can achieve professional goals. 
  • Setting unachievable goals that anyone was destined to underachieve from the start. 

and more… Point is that managers need to start showing empathy to reduce the number of underperforming employees in their teams.   

How to Manage Underperformance 

Addressing underperformance can be a challenge if you don’t know where to start. Here’s a 5-step course of action to address underperformance: 

Identify the problem 

Understand the issue. See why it’s occurring and the behavior or action that is causing it. 

Assess and analyze 

Concerning the duration and severity of the problem, analyze the gap between the goals that were set and those that were delivered by the employee in terms of performance. 

Meet with the employee 

After assessing the problem, set up a one-on-one meeting with the employee to discuss it. Prepare a checklist before the meeting and also let the employee know about the agenda in advance. It should be a structured meeting with a template containing relevant questions and data to show the employee an unbiased perspective. 

Agree on a solution 

Discuss the problem, work together with your employee to find a solution, and create an action plan. Underperforming employees are more likely to improve their performance if they feel like a part of the project and the organization. A leader’s ability to show empathy and motivate their employees is a game-changer during this step. 

Monitor and review 

Once you have a solution in place, Do: 

  • follow up to get updates on the progress. 
  • regularly check in with the employee to discuss how they are progressing. 
  • continue giving feedback and encouragement. 

It usually takes multiple meetings to resolve issues related to employee performance. Follow-ups are as important as that first conversation. Give the employee a reasonable period and support to improve, a high chance you’ll see positive results.  


Underperformance is common these days. Most times, it stems from bad leadership. Effective leadership starts with listening. By listening and showing empathy, employees feel less stressed and more comfortable talking about issues. It also motivates the workforce, which results in higher productivity. 

Result: Based on the progress of underperformers at the organization, company growth and revenue are positively or negatively impacted.  

If you are worried about managing employee performance all by yourself then don’t worry. Gone are the day when performance management was a manual process. A modern PMS like Keka monitors, analyzes, tracks, and evaluates employee performance to ensure that goals are met on time. 

Ready to add performance management to your agenda in 2021? 

Try Keka! 

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    Meet the author


    Sr. Content Writer

    Anubhav is forever weird, but he’s a fun Copywriter and interview host at Keka. Anubhav figured out in college days that with COPY you can get a bunch of very-targeted people to come to your website, consume your material, and even buy. His focus is on making HR easier for professionals and anyone wanting to make a difference in the workplace. When he isn’t writing, he’s either traveling to the mountains, playing football, reading about Tigers, or doing nothing.


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