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How to prevent and manage low performance in the workplace?
Performance Management

How to prevent and manage low performance in the workplace?

Giuseppe Ando
May 7, 2024

The theme of the Collaborator with unsatisfactory performance, in the Anglo-Saxon world, "Low Performer" is the most characteristic test bench of the HR function.

Where the values ​​are the enhancement of Talent and inclusion, the cases of poor Performance signal a systemic malfunction, particularly if recurring.

For every defeat there is an alibi. We can defend ourselves by arguing that the phenomenon is physiological, that it is the result of the times, that it is the fault of the family, of the school, of the decline of humanity.

The fact is that the presence of an Employee who produces little and badly has an economically costly and psychologically significant fallout.

The HR function provides resources to the organization and promotes a Culture of Valorisation of People, written with a capital letter. It is consequent to believe that a "Low Performer" is a malfunction.

"Low performer": who pays?

The errors that lead to a case of "Low performer" are much higher than imagined, with a relapse:

  • for the Employee
  • for Management
  • for the company
  • for the Company (Community)

The costs for the employee

The main victim of an HR error is the employee himself. We are genetically predisposed to the pack. For this we need to feel useful, it is a vital instinct. Being productive is rewarding, puts you in a good mood and is good for your health.

Those who do not express their potential have problematic relationships with bosses, colleagues, customers and with themselves.

The personal fallout of the performance deficit is amplified by clumsy and immoral management. Mobbing, the attempt to isolate the employee by depriving him of his working dignity, has an impact on the psychophysical health of the victim.

The fallout for Management and for the Company

The Head of a Collaborator in difficulty in the performance has to manage various headaches. In addition to justifying constant errors and delays, you must redistribute the load on the other team members or intervene personally. In general, the leadership of the entire command group is negatively affected by poor staff performance.

Recently the authors of the best seller "The only rule is that there are no rules: Netflix and the culture of reinvention" have hypothesized the correlation between "talent density" and internal climate The Management observed with surprise, following a reduction in personnel, an improvement in the internal climate and in productivity. The only plausible explanation, according to Hastings and Meyer, was in the correlation between the presence of talented, highly creative and productive personnel and the Team's energy.

Mobbing, which is a form of victim-executioner relationship, is not painless even for those who practice it as, at least on an unconscious level, the Manager has to go through dramatic situations, full of psychic violence.

Costs for the Company (Community)

People who are not valued or are subjected to harassing work treatments suffer damage to their health, not to mention the failure to acquire skills.

A worker who undergoes mobbing finds herself looking for work in a condition of double disadvantage: psychological distress and lack of skills.

For all these reasons, the functioning of HR Management is both an ethical and an economic issue.


The unsatisfactory performance can be reported to:

  • talent deficit
  • other causes

With very few exceptions, the Talent Deficit for a given role is caused by an error in Selection. A Candidate is hired who does not have the potential to achieve professional autonomy. Similar speech for the promotion of an Employee to a Role for which he is not suitable.

Any cause of poor performance can be traced back to a managerial error, even where solid alibis are possible.

The selection error that inserts a Candidate not suitable for the role leads to situations that cannot be cured except with a re-orientation. In general, the Talent Deficit is the most relevant cause as it is not reversible, such as a deteriorated relational dynamic or a decrease in motivation.

For this reason, the HR function must be designed to prevent errors in the selection, providing real procedures.

The critical element for the success of a Candidate placement is in the early assessment of Potential.

Since the trial period is the last chance to correct any errors in the Selection, Managers must be trained for this purpose.

Essential conditions are:

  • Roles and responsibilities;
  • A model for potential;
  • Clear terminology;
  • A Process for Selection.

We have already reported how the introduction of fixed-term contracts has led to a deterioration of the Managerial Culture. Apprenticeships and Term Contracts have become the substitute for the probationary period, which dilutes the timing of the evaluation and confuses roles and responsibilities.

The management

First of all, the Management, with very few exceptions, must take responsibility.

Beating a cow for not making milk only leads to further trouble.

Throwing the blame on those who are victims of mismanagement generates a deterioration of the human relationship without leading to any advantage.

The steps

The reference process is "Problem Solving", which experts suggest to tackle in stages.

The first step is the analysis. In this case it is essential to ensure that the employee produces a truly negative performance.

For this purpose, possible errors must be excluded:

  1. negative "stomach" judgments
  2. expect excellence in ancillary activities
  3. expect excellence in all the tasks set out in the Job Description

Negative Judgements of Belly

Relationships are based on deep dynamics, conditioned by irrational drives, for which an objective evaluation is a pure chimera.

Although companies equip themselves with evaluation dashboards and proclaim meritocracy, evaluations are always heavily conditioned by subjectivity.

For this a negative evaluation must be investigated by a third party, in order to improve the reality test.

Demand Excellence in Accessory Activities

The performance must be evaluated in the fundamental activities of the Role.

The parameters are the quality of the product, the speed of execution, the ability to innovate and satisfy the customer, possibly the contribution to the team.

Ancillary activities cannot be relevant to the overall assessment.

Let's take for example a technician who proves effective and quick in repairing machinery, but poor in planning the commitments of the week.

We can expect the planning deficit to become an irritating thorn in the relationship with the Head of Department.

What must not happen is that there is a devaluation of the performance and the consequent resignation.

The next Technician, good at planning the week but poor at repairing machinery, will clarify how different the weights of the fundamental activities of the role are compared to the ancillary ones.

Demand Excellence in all Job

Where the Job Role provides for heterogeneous tasks, a light and shadow performance is normal. It is therefore necessary to identify 2-3 key tasks on which to focus attention.

Where there are many Collaborators with uneven performance, it is economical to decline the Role into two distinct Jobs, each characterized by more homogeneous critical activities.

How to investigate the causes of poor performance?

The analysis must include various tools, in particular:

  • direct observation of performance
  • verification questions
  • examination of the production, quantitative and qualitative trend
  • customer interview
  • technical evaluation of the product

Absolutely to avoid negative questions, which already contain veiled accusations:

“Why didn't you manage to sell to that customer, who had always bought…?

"How could you have mistaken the evaluation of that machine, even a child would have succeeded ...?".

"Why don't you grow up in your job ...?"

Better to proceed methodically, excluding transient or occasional problems, in this order:

  1. Transient personal or health problems
    EXAMPLE: the Collaborator is separating from his spouse.
  2. Deficit of Motivation;
    EXAMPLE: the Collaborator has already signed the contract with another company.
  3. Exclude information / training / experience deficits
  4. Exclude tool / resource deficits

After having excluded all the Causes that can be removed, all that remains is to hypothesize an aptitude / potential Deficit that refers to an error in the evaluation of the Talents that occurred during the Selection phase.

The selection error, which leads to hiring a Candidate without the Potential, cannot be compensated with Coaching or Training work.

The Supervisor will not be able to stimulate a significant professional development of the Collaborator. The reorientation process must be activated.

Good Supervision Practices

The quality of Supervision work is not only in Coaching or Coordination but also in the documents that certify what is relevant between the parties.

Downstream of a coaching or an interview where relevant information has emerged, the Meeting Report is more than a formality. The care with which a Supervisor summarizes the relevant information is the basis of a relationship of trust and respect, a guarantee for an enriching future for the parties

It is essential to document cases where the Collaborator has demonstrated his skills.

This practice must be followed regardless of the level of performance or seniority of the Collaborator.

In the case of the "Low performer" Collaborator , the reorientation must be built on strengths. For this reason, identifying EVERY signal of potential, perhaps in accessory or complementary tasks, is indispensable.

When "Low Performer" means "Low Talent"

The Potential deficit cannot be resolved over time, so we must admit the Selection error. We hired a Contributor who doesn't have the Talents for that role.

It is necessary to activate a professional reorientation path, in English “Coaching-out”.

Reorientation (Coaching Out)

Reorientation is the way forward when there is a Potential deficit that prevents the Collaborator from developing operational autonomy in the Role. After the analysis it is necessary to proceed.

Reorientation is an HR technical skill, which assigns tasks to the Supervisor, it is not a cross to be thrown on the Employee's shoulders.

Beyond the economic side, that is the interest of the organization and management to have autonomous and capable collaborators, the one who benefits most from a path of enhancement of individual resources is the collaborator himself.

An Employee inserted in a wrong role experiences moments of frustration, humiliation, a load of stress that negatively impacts on health.

Where we postpone the decision to reorient for too long, we will be faced with dilemmas that test our sense of ethics, given that it is not easy for older workers to relocate.

Despite this, Collaborators who are victims of bad management should not be treated with pietism or pseudo-paternalism, hoping to safeguard the relationship together with our conscience.

Likewise, freeing oneself from one's responsibility by throwing the cross on the Co-worker ignites a sterile conflict. Complaining about commitment or loyalty leads to relational paralysis.

However much tact and emotional intelligence we put in place, the Collaborator will still live the situation badly. On the one hand he perceives the inequities of treatment with respect to his colleagues, on the other the concerns for a troubled future, not to mention the hurt for self-esteem.

It is essential to look ahead, avoiding recriminations about a past that cannot be fixed. The most useful operation is to envision a future where the collaborator's qualities will be enhanced to the fullest. In this way the predisposition of the parties to behaviors aimed at a viable solution increases.

The principle is that each Person has Talents that can turn into Strengths, or resources that can be spent in an organization.


The management of the “Low performer” is a pulse of the HR function and the competence of the Managers, which emerges clearly on the most difficult test benches.

We must be sure of the analysis, that is to verify that the cause of poor performance is the potential deficit.

The resulting reorientation process requires problem solving, negotiation skills and human qualities.

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