Take the Lead: How to Supportively Guide Non-Performers Toward Success

It is not a question of if but of when you will come across a non-performing team member. A non-performing team member is someone who is not a good fit with your team or the organization from either a hard skill set or a cultural perspective. Maybe they are consistently late, produce low-quality work, or simply do not seem to care about their job.

If you’re a new people manager, it’s essential to get your line manager’s opinion before jumping to the conclusion that someone is underperforming. It’s important to remember that the vast majority of people go through similar job interviews, and very few companies purposely hire individuals who are not right for the position. So try to dig deeper and understand the whole picture.

When it happens, it can be a difficult and emotional experience for all parties involved, especially if you have not experienced it before. Non-performing team member often leads to costly mistakes, slower delivery, and predictably additional work for you (the line manager) and the wider team. 

One of the worst situations is when the non-performing member is getting along very well with you outside of work. Hence, I often advise having a tough conversation early. Don’t procrastinate and hope that it will go away. If you have the conversation early, set clear expectations, the turnaround chance would be higher as well. 

A discussion with HR should take place because of the various labor laws in different countries. Most likely, you will request that your underperforming team member goes through a personal improvement program. A few things to note: 

  • You need to set clear and measurable goals in written form. 
  • Be objective and fair. Treat him/her as to how you would want to be treated if the situation was reversed. 
  • When you develop the plan, please ask yourself this question: “if he/she accomplishes all the goals, would you want him/her to stay in the company, in your team?” If the answer is no, then you are not fair enough, and people know it. 
  • Get alignment with your team member on the plan and the timeline for review. 
  • Provide regular feedback along the way. Don’t wait until the formal review time. 

While I am a firm believer that anyone could learn to do anything that he/she wants to, I have worked with enough people to appreciate that not everyone is a good fit for the job that they are doing. So it may lead to a situation where you need to let the non-performing team members go. Think about how you would feel in their shoes. Chances are, most people will change jobs several times throughout their lives, and not being a good fit for any specific position is entirely possible. Therefore, it is always important to treat everyone with respect–even if you have to let them go.

At the end of the day, when you have to make difficult decisions, it is important to remember that you are doing this out of respect and not out of malice. Your team members are more than just resources – they are people who deserve your support and compassion. As a first-time people manager, this can be a tricky situation to navigate. Remembering to stay positive, supportive and fair will help you take the lead and guide non-performers toward success. Good luck!


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