Your Manager Checklist for Dealing with Low Performers

As a manager, you’re faced with a challenging task. It feels like climbing Mountain Everest, blindfolded.

Meet Jeff—he’s the CEO of B players Inc.

He hasn’t done anything illegal, but Jeff is neither reaching his goals nor plain getting the job done. And let’s be honest—he’s a time suck for you as a manager and a profit-killer for your organization.


Letting someone go is everything but easy. You’ll need to go through a performance intervention and have “the talk” with Jeff that might leave both of you with bruised feelings.

Don’t stress.

You’re about to learn how to grasp the nettle before it grows and, ideally, dodge the need to fire anyone.

Pinning down the Poor Performer

Let me pre-frame it.

As a manager, identifying poor performance can be tricky. But there are several surefire signs that can save you from a costly mistake.

Let’s look at a few.

Expectations ≠ Met

One of the first alarm bells is when Jeff—your underperformer—no longer meets your managerial expectations.

The work product he delivers is always poor, and he’s not doing anything tangible to improve things.

Does that sound familiar? Time to tick that box.

Peers Aren’t Happy

You know that to have a high-performing team, you need people who can work in concert with each other like Sergey Brin and Larry Page.

Each and every person needs to deliver, or better yet, over-deliver their share of work.

Is Jeff like that? Does he work seamlessly with others on team projects?

If he’s all talk and no action—another box ticked.

Company Values Aren’t Embraced

Your company has a set of core values it stands by. It could be accountability, transparency, teamwork, etc.

If Jeff isn’t a cultural fit and he spurns those values—that’s another red flag for you, and a big one at that.

That’s because you can always train an employee to do their job, but it’s hands down impossible to change a person’s workplace values system.

Taking Action on Poor Performance

So far so good.

You’ve got proof that Jeff isn’t pulling his weight.

So—should he go or should he stay? Should you fire Jeff like John Sculley fired Steve Jobs?

Not yet. There a couple of things you can do first to turn things around.

Ask Yourself These Two Questions First

Just like the rest of your team, Jeff needs to have a crystal-clear idea of your expectations toward him.

Otherwise, he might be unaware that he’s blowing it. And while it could seem obvious, a whopping 50 percent of US workers don’t know what management expects of them.

So here are two questions you can ask Jeff to aid his performance:

  1. Has he been explicitly told what you expect of him?

If you think Jeff may be unaware of his performance missteps, you can help.

Here’s how:

Introduce OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) to keep your team in the know about quarterly objectives. You can learn more about OKRs here.

  1. Does he receive the coaching and training needed to excel in his role?

If not, provide the necessary coaching and help Jeff get up to speed.

For example, you can share your knowledge and experience with Jeff through multiple 1:1s.

And if you don’t have time to do it, ask one of your top performers to do the coaching for you.

Other options include getting Jeff a mentor or signing him up for an online course.

Unearth the Source of the Problem

Let’s assume Jeff is dead-on aware of your managerial expectations. But he’s still performing more like Hit-Girl with her leg broken.


It’s time to set up a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) meeting for the next three months to pinpoint the root of the problem. Sometimes, it’s not that people aren’t cut out for the job. Often, external factors prevent them from performing at their full potential.

For instance, Jeff might be going through some family issues. Or maybe he’s preoccupied with a time-consuming hobby he hopes to put on a resume.

It could be anything.

As a manager, you should uncover the potential problem before taking action.

Bring up the Issue

Now, I know it is tough.

But you have to do it. You are the boss, after all.

Start by sharing your feedback with Jeff. The key here is to be specific. Back up each and every instance of the undesired behavior with examples (numbers, facts, etc.).

Jeff might have different responses:

Source: ResumeLab’s internal materials

Those reactions are okay as long as you can both agree on a further course of action. Crack on to learn how.

Help Them Make a U-Turn

Now it’s time for Jeff to get back on track and rise from his ashes.

How? By setting the right goals for the next three months.

  1. Make his goals achievable and quantifiable.

Right: Output a total of 30 high-quality articles.

Wrong: Acquire 30 guest post backlinks (Jeff doesn’t have much control over editors who may or may not choose to publish his pieces.)

  1. Align his goals with departmental targets.

Right: Set up a marketing podcast and produce 20 episodes.

Wrong: Repair the coffee maker in the shared kitchen.

Final Words

As a manager, you have many plates to spin and a lot of hats to wear.

But if you’re leading a team, your main job is your people.

So, give your low-performing direct report lots of coaching. Set standards for him. If he still falls short of expectations—be ready to let him go.

Until next time.

Max Woolf is a writer at ResumeLab. He’s passionate about helping people land their dream jobs through the expert career industry coverage. In his spare time, Max enjoys biking and traveling to European countries. You can hit him up on LinkedIn.

Low performer stock photo by Kite_rin/Shutterstock