Sustained success is never linear. Even your best employees will experience moments where they struggle with their performance. This isn't a bad thing. Every moment in performance management, good or bad, is an opportunity to learn and improve.

That's why performance management isn't a one-size-fits-all. It's an adaptable process that involves understanding, addressing, and enhancing the performance of employees across the spectrum, from high performers to those who might be struggling, so each can reach their full potential.

Each performance management plan is different. This article deep dives into ones that focus on improvement.

Why poor performance reveals great opportunities

See performance issues as opportunities, not problems. It might seem counterintuitive, but they open up the path towards learning and growing for even greater performance down the road.

While confronting poor performance may be uncomfortable, it can be a catalyst for positive change. The key is to not shy away from addressing it.

Breaking the ice on poor performance — it starts with a conversation

When performance problems arise, the first step is to have an honest, open conversation to figure out what's going wrong. Be empathetic, because poor performance can have various causes. Sometimes, poor performance can be caused by something easily fixed. Or, an employee's performance can be affected by something unrelated to work.

It's incredible what insights a simple chat can bring. Be a good listener and offer support to help your employee overcome their challenges.

How to manage poor performance conversations remotely

Ideally, conversations around performance concerns should be had in person. However, in the case of remote work, this isn't necessarily possible. The next best thing is a video call. It's still face-to-face, but virtual.

Having sensitive discussions around poor performance via email or messages leaves a risk for misinterpretation, and doesn't offer the opportunity for real-time dialogue. Remember, managing poor performance or any other challenge well comes down to clear communication.

Performance management: It's about supporting and motivating

Performance management boils down to two main things: supporting employees in their performance and motivating them to keep improving. That said, every employee is unique. Some might lack technical knowledge, while others might have trouble staying motivated. Some might already excel in their field, and need new challenges. Your strategy to manage performance of all types should match each employee's specific needs.

Assessing performance ability and motivation across the spectrum

By recognizing that performance spans a spectrum — from exceptional to underwhelming — managers can tailor their approach to meet the diverse needs of their team members.

  • Exceptional performance: When an employee has a unique set of skills and talents that contribute to exceptional performance.
    • How to motivate: Acknowledge and celebrate achievements to foster a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
    • Example: A sales representative consistently surpasses targets due to excellent negotiation skills (ability) and a strong drive to succeed (motivation).
  • Satisfactory performance: When an employee's core competencies contribute to meeting job requirements adequately, but could still go the extra mile.
    • How to motivate: Recognize and reinforce positive contributions, maintaining a balanced and motivated workforce.
    • Example: A customer service agent effectively handles inquiries, showcasing proficient problem-solving skills (ability) and a commitment to customer satisfaction (motivation).
  • Developmental areas: Areas where skill development or training is needed have been pinpointed for further growth.
    • How to motivate: Engage in open conversations to understand aspirations and align developmental goals.
    • Example: An employee in a technical role seeks additional training (ability) and expresses interest in taking on more challenging projects (motivation).
  • Underperformance: When an employee has specific gaps in skills or knowledge that directly impact meeting acceptable performance.
    • How to motivate: Investigate potential demotivators and work collaboratively to address underlying issues.
    • Example: An individual in a project management role struggles due to a lack of familiarity with certain tools (ability) and experiences a decline in motivation (motivation).

Create a plan for improvement (and success)

Whether you're dealing with high-performing employees or underperforming employees, having a clear plan in place is essential. Here are the steps to creating a plan for performance improvement and success:

  1. Have a candid conversation: Initiate a one-on-one discussion with the underperforming employee. This sets the stage for a constructive, solution-oriented approach. For instance, "I've noticed you've been struggling to meet your monthly sales targets. Let's talk about how we can get you back on track."
  2. Define clear and achievable goals: Together with the employee, define clear and realistic goals that can be monitored. This clarity helps employees understand how to meet expectations, hold themselves accountable, and track their own progress. Use the SMART or OKR frameworks to help with goal setting.
  3. Connect individual goals to organizational objectives: Show employees how their work contributes to the company's overall mission and success. When they understand the bigger picture, they're more motivated to perform well.
  4. Create a timeline: Set a reasonable timeframe for reaching these goals. It gives a sense of urgency and accountability. Your employee should know that there are expectations to meet, like, "We'll review your progress every two weeks for the next two months."
  5. Develop strategies for improvement: Collaboratively, figure out how the employee can reach these goals. What support do they need? If someone is struggling with client communication, you might plan to pair them with more experienced team members for mentoring.
  6. Provide the resources needed: Ensure your employees have access to the tools, training, and support they need to meet their goals.
  7. Have regular check-ins: Schedule frequent follow-up meetings. This helps track progress, provide additional guidance, and keep the employee motivated. Encourage open communication, where employees can ask questions, share concerns, seek clarification, and provide their own feedback.
  8. Support and encourage: Improvement plans aren't about punishment but support. Make sure your employee knows you're here to help them succeed. The occasional kudos goes a long way.
  9. Document everything: Keep thorough records of these conversations and agreements. It's crucial in case you need to make any employment decisions in the future when the employee fails to improve in a reasonable timeline.
  10. Monitor and adjust: Regularly track progress toward goals and adjust the plan as needed. This flexibility ensures that goals remain relevant and achievable.

By following these practical steps, you can guide struggling employees toward better performance and help them become more valuable assets to your organization. With a solid plan in place, you can help employees reach their full potential and contribute to your organization's success.

Tips for managing poor performance at work

Just like mastering the art of leading successful employee performance, knowing how to manage poor performance is just as important. When dealing with employees experiencing poor performance, the following tips can be invaluable:

Tip #1: Help your employees understand the 'why' of goal setting

Boost motivation and guide your employees by putting goals into context. Show them how their work fits into the larger company framework. They're more motivated to succeed when they see how their efforts help the company thrive.

For example, you could say, "By increasing our customer satisfaction ratings from 75% to 90% this year, we'll make our customers happier. Happy customers stay with us longer, which means we can grow and offer more job opportunities. So, your role is essential for our company's success."

This kind of clarity and connection makes a big difference. Reminders are especially helpful when managing poor performance.

Tip #2: Using the SMART and OKR goal methods

The SMART framework provides a structured approach to goal setting so objectives are clear, specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

For example: "To make sure we improve project time delivery, we will aim for a 95% on-time project completion rate over the next quarter. We will then look back and assess if this was achieved."

The OKR framework allows you to align teams around common objectives, measure progress, and adapt strategies based on the outcomes.

For example: "We want to increase customer satisfaction and loyalty. We will target a Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 80 or higher at the end of the quarter, and observe how this is progressing over time."

Tip #3: Focusing on coaching and mentoring

Employees benefit greatly from additional support and guidance. If a team member is not meeting their performance goals, you can say, "Let's pair you with a more experienced colleague who can provide you with one-on-one coaching. Mentorship will give you valuable insights and advice to help you improve."

Tip #4: See the opportunity in every performance issue

See managing poor performance as an opportunity — to either improve an employee's performance or change up ineffective workplace practices that might be hindering your employees. Sure, difficult conversations aren't fun, but your employees will feel confident in themselves when you have confidence in them and in the process.

Boosting employee motivation and morale during productivity slumps

Productivity slumps happen to the best of teams. And with poor productivity comes poor performance. Whether it's due to external factors, individual struggles, or just the occasional off-day, here's how to keep your team motivated and engaged:

  • Acknowledge effort and progress: Recognize and celebrate small wins and improvements. Praise an employee who exceeded their targets last month, even if the overall team performance is down.
  • Regular positive reinforcement: Negative feedback can be demoralizing, so give your team doses of positive, timely feedback. It could be a simple "great job" or acknowledging how they contribute to the company's success during a team meeting.
  • Encourage open communication: Create a safe space for employees to discuss challenges, roadblocks, or personal issues. Listen actively and provide support. This can be as simple as asking, "Is there anything I can do to help?"
  • Empower problem-solving: Involve your team in finding solutions to poor performance. For instance, if you're experiencing a slow sales period, ask for their input on attracting more customers or improving sales strategies.
  • Lead by example: Be a role model for motivation. Your enthusiasm, work ethic, and attitude will rub off on your team.
  • Offer flexibility: Be open to flexible work arrangements, especially during challenging times. This can help employees balance personal and work life while maintaining their productivity.
  • Professional development: Encourage skill development and provide learning opportunities. Investing in your team's growth can boost motivation.

Remember, motivation is not just a one-time fix but an ongoing process when managing poor performance. By employing these strategies, you can maintain a motivated and engaged team, even when productivity hits a temporary low.

Performance improvement plan (PIP) templates to help you manage poor performance

Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs) are powerful tools to help struggling team members regain their footing and improve poor performance. We've provided two templates you can customize, where regular performance reviews are central.

PIP template #1: Improving hard skills like technical knowledge

Goal: Improve proficiency in a specific coding language to boost job performance.


  • Technical training: Enroll the employee in a specialized training program focused on.
  • On-the-job learning: Have the employee practice through real-world tasks and projects.
  • Skill-building projects: Assign them hands-on projects to reinforce technical abilities.


  • Week 1-2: Identify the right training program for the coding language and have them begin.
  • Week 3-6: The training program continues, and on-the-job learning begins.
  • Week 7-10: Initiate skill-building projects to apply learned concepts practically.

Review Meetings:

  • Week 2: Discuss initial insights and key takeaways from the training program.
  • Week 6: Evaluate the application of new skills in on-the-job tasks.
  • Week 10: Review the projects' success and assess overall technical proficiency improvement.

PIP template #2: Improving soft skills like communication

Goal: Enhance communication and interpersonal skills for better client relationships.


  • Mentoring: Pair the employee with a team member skilled in client communication.
  • Communication training: Complete a relevant communication skills course.
  • Role-playing: Regularly practice client interactions with a mentor or manager.


  • Week 1-2: Select a mentor and identify a suitable communication skills course.
  • Week 3-4: Begin the communication skills course and initiate mentorship.
  • Week 5-8: Engage in regular role-playing sessions with mentor/manager.

Review Meetings:

  • Week 2: Discuss initial insights from the course.
  • Week 4: Evaluate the effectiveness of the mentorship and training.
  • Week 8: Review the improvement in client interactions and set future communication goals.

Remember, PIPs are designed to support employee performance and development rather than as punitive measures. By following this structured approach, you can provide struggling employees with a clear path toward success and reestablish their value in your team.

Track progress using performance management software

One vital aspect of a successful performance improvement plan is keeping an eye on progress. Performance management software can be a significant help in this regard. These tools offer valuable insights and data that allow you to evaluate performance objectively — even flagging performance issues you might have otherwise missed.

A well-rounded performance improvement plan doesn't discriminate based on performance. It caters to everyone, from the high achievers to those who need some extra support. A tailored approach to each employee fosters motivation, skill development, and overall performance improvement.

Uncover opportunities through performance management with Officevibe

Poor performance reveals opportunities for improvement — it starts with identifying its root cause, putting a plan in place, and fostering a positive attitude throughout the process.

Remember, a setback is just a detour on the road to success. By addressing poor performance effectively, you can navigate your entire team towards higher achievements and a brighter future.

Don't wait to see the transformation — start your free Workleap Officevibe trial today!