How to Identify Low Performance – Management Tips

Underwhelming: Sure Signs of Low Performance

How do you know if an employee isn’t reaching their goals, pulling their weight or just plain getting the job done? Conducting performance management and identifying low performance can be tricky. And, training managers to do it is often challenging since every manager has their own personality and way of relating to their team. How can you simplify the task of identifying low performance and training others to do it well?

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The following is a list of low performance indicators that will hopefully help both you, and your management team, focus on what is important for your business. When an employee is not doing their job well enough, the company’s bottom line and the team’s morale suffer. Use this list to help you find and solve your low performance problems.

Goals are not being met. The first and probably most straightforward sign is that the employee’s goals are not being met. You set out certain goals, in terms of what the job is supposed to accomplish, and that person is not meeting them at all. This way of identifying low performance is pretty obvious and where we HR professionals go first. But, it is only one part of the equation.

Employee relies too heavily on others to meet goals. Another possibility is that the employee relies too heavily on others to meet their goals. So, their goals may be getting met, but you find out that they are relying too much on other team members or on people above them to get the job done. And, that’s not a productive way to get things done because that employee is draining resources that have other goals and expectations. That’s something we have to monitor, as well.

The quality of work is poor. Low quality work may mean that goals are being met but the quality of work is just not up to par. And, as a manager, you need to able to carefully explain to employees how their work is not meeting expectations and be able to define what good performance would look like as opposed to what’s been turned in.

Employee has difficulty working with boss or co-workers. We’ve all run into the situation where an employee is getting the job done, and may even have high quality work, but they cannot work with other people. And, if that has an effect on their ability to get work done and on other’s ability to get work done, or for the organization to meet it’s goals, then that is a low performance issue.

There are some isolated cases where you can sit this person in a room and, if they are in individual contributor, you can kind of prevent them from working with others. That may work. That may be the solution that is needed if they really are a great performer.

But, often times, employees have to interact with team members. They have to work with customers or co-workers so we really have to make sure that that person is not only meeting their goals but is effective at working with other people.

Employee is not able to embrace the company values. Many organizations are now adding language to their performance review metrics about being able to uphold the company’s culture, values or mission. And, some employees are just not able to do so. Again, the performance may be there and the ability to work well with others may be there, but if they can’t truly embrace that vision then your organization is going to have an issue.

I had the opportunity early in my career to work for Nordstrom. And, many of you may know that Nordstrom is a large retailer throughout the U.S. and they are known for their service. That is their thing, their differentiator. And, from the day I walked in the door at Nordstrom, I was indoctrinated with these values. And, it was very important to them that every employee understood how important customer service was to their overall mission. And, that ethic was reinforced all along the way.

The one rule that we had was that you never say “no.” And, being in HR, that’s a tough thing to do. But, we learned how to deliver the message we had to deliver without saying “no.” That was a really important skill to learn and if you couldn’t master that skill then it wasn’t the right company for you. This is a key issue for many companies because they want have employees who can embrace the parts of their culture that make them successful.

Employee violates company policy. If you have a policy violation, even if they are a top performer, depending on how serious it is or if it is a repeat issue, you may need to terminate that employee.

All of these situations can help you identify low performance. When a manager comes to you and talks about terminating an employee, I think the manager must be able to clearly articulate what the issue is. Making them choose something on this list and explain why it is the reason for the low performance is a way to ensure that manager has thought their request through and has done their part to identify why the employee isn’t working out.


Stacey Carroll, CCP, SPHR
Director of Professional Services and Education


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