Not every employee performance review that comes in will be positive. Targets will be missed, employees will underperform and as a people manager, you’ll need to find a way to either improve the situation or part ways with the employee.

When it comes to the challenging task of addressing employee performance issues, the key is to focus on potential solutions, rather than problems. Here’s how.

State the issue clearly

It’s difficult to talk about poor performance with employees, but avoiding the problem will only prolong the tough discussion. Be specific and state the problem clearly so that your employee understands what’s going on. Encouraging words are okay to share, but the employee needs to walk away knowing what the problem was and how to improve.

Be employee specific

When it comes to improving employee performance, it is worthwhile to customize your approach. You may have to deal with each employee differently to get the same results. Know what motivates your employees, when to step in softly, and when to simply be direct.


Sometimes employees are fully aware of their performance issues but are unable to improve the situation on their own. It’s important to listen to an employee’s concerns during the performance review.

Use timelines and goal setting

Use your employee’s SMART goals as a baseline and proactively explore how their performance can be improved. If your employee is underperforming because they’re disinterested in the project they’re working on, consider alternative projects within your organization that might be a better fit for them.

Related reading: Macromagement, or The Case for the Coaching Management Style

Reward improvement

Positive reinforcement is key to keeping employee momentum going. Verbal praise can serve as an effective way to show your appreciation for your employees rather than giving gifts or bonuses. However, each employer should approach feedback on an individual basis, depending on what motivates their employees.

Have a plan of action if there’s no improvement

Written warnings are not fun for anybody and constitute a reasonably serious step to take. Still, if employees consistently aren’t hitting the mark, it’s important to communicate the issue with that individual in a more formal way.

Related reading: PIP Tips: How to Set up a Performance Improvement Plan

Know when to let go

Letting go of an employee is an incredibly difficult thing to do. However, it might be necessary if you’ve exhausted all other avenues of recourse and are still not seeing any improvement from the employee. Make sure you’re staying compliant with all relevant labour and employment standards laws in your province or territory before you take that step.

For more expert advice on staying competitive in today’s dynamic workplace, download our free guide on How to Improve Your Performance Management Process.

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