Right way to review performance of ‘underachievers’

Right way to review performance of ‘underachievers’

Employees form the foundation of any company. They are the ones who give their all and make sure the company successfully achieves its objectives.

If employees are the reason companies become successful, it is their managers who are instrumental in driving them towards success. Managers monitor the performance of their team from time to time and give feedback accordingly. It is these regular reviews that help employees understand in which areas they have been performing well as well as where they need to improve.

However, not everyone can be a star performer. There are those whose performance may have gone down considerably while some could struggle even with the simplest of tasks. There could be a variety of reasons for this such as insufficient or incorrect training, no aptitude for the task, or no interest in the job. Does this mean you fire such employees and get rid of them? Or would you invest in them and make sure they are performing as expected of them?

If you start firing poor performers every single time, you would most certainly struggle with onboarding new employees as well! Very few would want to work for a company that has a penchant for getting rid of poor performers.

Though all this is much ahead in the employee management process. Even before you come to a decision regarding the fate of such employees, you need to review their performance and share it with them.


So how do you efficiently conduct performance reviews for under-performers?


Get all the facts:

Make sure you have all the facts and figures when you are reviewing their performance. Many a time there have been incidents, when a manager has let his psychological biases cloud his judgment. Such reviews tend to go against the employees who may have to suffer through no fault of their own. Nor should the reviewers be influenced by personal opinions of other team mates.

Self Assessment:

Ask the underperformer to carry out a self assessment. It gives him a chance to analyse his performance and compare it with the targets that were set. His perception about his performance may be different which could help the manager in assessing him.

Set up a meeting:

Once you have your performance report ready, conduct a meeting with the said underperformer. The report should include a comprehensive history of past performance, areas where target was met or exceeded, areas where performance slipped and suggestions for improvement.

It is also important how you give feedback. There should no personal allegations. If you want to reprimand them, calmly explain what were the expectations and what has been achieved so far. An angry outburst can never evoke honest replies from the underperformers. Instead of actually reasoning, they tend to defend themselves and give excuses. The more calmly you interact, the more comfortable they’ll get to confide in you.

Expectations from the meeting:

Setting targets is not a top-down exercise. Encourage them to speak freely and let them decide what they think can be a realistic target. Discuss and agree upon one that can lead to the team fulfilling its objectives.

At the end of the meeting, employee should be clear about the expectations as well as the consequences of unmet targets. If they need help or training with certain tasks, make sure they get it. If you assign a particular task to someone who is not skilled or equipped to perform it, the blame lies with you.

Follow up at frequent intervals:

If you are still carrying out annual performance reviews, you may want to rethink it. You may not be able to identify the under-performers in time. Modern performance management methods suggest that you conduct frequent (monthly or quarterly) reviews to assess individuals. This helps you identify whether your teammates are performing as expected. If not, you can quickly have a discussion and set them on the right course.


Underperformers should not be viewed as a burden on the organisation. Think of them as one of the wheels of a vehicle. In order for the vehicle to run smoothly, all its wheels need to be in good shape. If one of them has a small puncture, do not immediately change. It’s possible to remove the puncture and with minimal cost, make sure the vehicle is running again. Only when the wheel is completely damaged, consider replacing it.

Similarly, studies have shown that acquiring new employees is 3 times more expensive than retaining old ones. If the underperformers have scope to improve, why waste all the money on getting new employees?