Even the most motivated and inspiring people leaders find the idea of improving poor performance in their team members one of the hardest parts of their job.

And it is not surprising as to why.  Going through a formal performance management process is exhausting! Setting goals tightly monitoring providing feedback reviewing outcomes. It all takes a lot of time and energy. And in fact, some research has shown that managers say they spent up to a day a week managing poor performance. 

Also sometimes a formal performance management process makes the situation worse and we have an employee who becomes disengaged and resentful, impacting on other employees and our workplace culture. 

So is there an easier way?

Before embarking on a formal process, there are a few pre-steps which may help to improve poor performance much more quickly and easily.

  • Back to basics

Fundamentally we need to make sure that the expectations of each role in our business is clear to the person in the role.

This means not just having position descriptions, but making sure that they’re up to date. Also, the goals/ objectives/ accountabilities (or whatever terminology you use) should be clearly written, so that if you gave that position description to a friend or a family member, even if they’ve never heard of that role before, they should understand what the job is and what’s expected of it. 

And we also need to make sure that we’ve given adequate development to our employees, so starting with onboarding, through probation and beyond, that we are providing opportunities for the employee to clearly understand what’s expected of them.

  • Explore Roadblocks

Sometimes there is miscommunication, different perspectives, or other roadblocks in the way which if uncovered, can quickly improve poor performance. Ferdinand Fournies research into why employees don’t “do what they are supposed to do” is based on interviews with 25,000 Managers over two decades. He came up with the following roadblocks which are described in his book  Why Employees Don’t Do What They’re Supposed To and What You Can Do About It.  


  •       They don’t know why they should do it
  •       They don’t know how to do it
  •       They don’t know what they are supposed to do
  •       They think your way won’t work
  •       They think their way is better
  •       They think something else is more important
  •       They think they are doing it
  •       They are rewarded for not doing it
  •       There is no positive consequence for doing it
  •       They are punished for doing it
  •       They anticipate a negative consequence
  •       There is no performance management
  •       Obstacles beyond their control
  •       Personal performance limits
  •       Personal Problems
  •       No one could do it


These are all roadblocks that, if explored using open questions, may help you to get the employee back on track and prevent the need for a formal performance management process.



Let’s say I am Isaac’s manager, and he’s a long term employee. His performance has always been “ok”, but he’s never been a superstar. Now I have new staff, and they’re getting frustrated and saying to me that he takes too long to do certain tasks and he takes too long to respond to them. 

From my perspective, he’s always asking me to double check his work and after so many years in his role I think that should be unnecessary. So I’m getting frustrated because I don’t know how to quantify if this is an issue needing performance management because he can do his job, he’s just not doing it to the same standard as the other people in the team. 

The best place to start here is to look at why employees don’t do what they’re supposed to do and think about those different barriers. One of the issues according to his colleagues iis that he’s taking too long. I need to consider if, as his manager, do I think he’s taking too long? And if I do, have I told him that? Have we had a conversation around what my expectations are on the timeline for those tasks or, do we have a team charter, where everyone has agreed in our team as to how we work together and what our response times are to each other?That’s a really good conversation to have with Isaac to understand if some of those roadblocks are applying.

In terms of me double checking his work, the first step is that I need to stop doing that! Then I need to let Isaac know that I’m not going to do that anymore and give him the opportunity to succeed, or not. He will then work out really quickly if he is doing things perfectly well without having his work double checked and therefore, needs to back himself a little bit more.  Or perhaps there will be issues, and at least then I can coach and manage him. But if I just keep double checking his work and fixing it, then that doesn’t give an opportunity for him to gain in confidence or for me to coach him effectively.


When we have to get formal

Of course, sometimes these initial steps don’t give us the results we need and a formal process is needed. Stay tuned for the rest in part two of How to Improve Employee Performance where we cover steps for preparing for a critical conversation.