Intelligent leaders address the problem of underperforming employees by supporting them, seeking to understand the drivers and causes of their shortcomings, and working out ways to help them. Coaching and mentoring are also potentially effective ways to deal with problem employees. Though an option of last resort, disciplinary action shouldn’t be off the table either.

Employee underperformance is an issue that puts leaders to the test. Employee retention is among the top priorities of every organization. Firing employees and training new people is a drain on resources and takes time. Organizations that don’t value employees and don’t strive to reduce employee turnover won’t thrive.

happy employee

Happy employees are the keys to sustainable success for organizations. 

Every organization deals with employees whose performances fall below average. Dealing with problem employees requires finesse. Also, leaders must adopt no-nonsense, decisive approaches.

Leadership coaching has cracked the optimal approach to handling underperformance. Executive coaching specialists can help leaders find creative solutions that suit their specific circumstances.

Here’s how leaders should approach the issue of underperformance in their organizations from the perspective of a leadership coaching professional.

Being Proactive

Leaders can’t afford to put off dealing with underperforming employees. The risk of contagion is high with this problem, as unaddressed performance issues may spread to other employees. Also, an employee’s morale and performance may suffer more damage, making it harder to bring them back into alignment later.

Intelligent leaders spot and address underperformance issues as soon as they arise.

Creating an Environment of Psychological Safety

People thrive and communicate honestly when they feel at ease and surrounded by friendly, positive energy. Sometimes, a less-than-ideal performance may result from stressful circumstances employees face in their personal lives. Piling more pressure on them at work is counterproductive in this situation. A supportive environment can reassure such employees, providing them with the psychological safety they need to deal with problems.

Clarifying Expectations

To perform well, employees must know and understand the expectations they have to fulfill. Sometimes, not knowing these expectations is why employees fail to live up to them.

Executive coaching considers clear expectations to be the cornerstones of optimal leadership communication. Leaders must ensure they communicate the purposes of their organizations and expectations clearly, as that’s the only way to get employees to align with organizational goals.

Providing Feedback

Intelligent leaders offer and welcome relevant feedback. Feedback creates clarity regarding one’s current performance and the expectations of leaders and managers. Feedback is the backbone of communication in an organization.

Employees who receive regular feedback know they need to improve. They also know exactly where and how they can improve.

Creating Opportunities for Development and Improvement

Pointing out where an underperforming employee needs to improve (and how) is only part of a leader’s job. Creating concrete opportunities for people to improve through training and learning opportunities allows leaders to eliminate lack of skill as a reason for one’s limited performance.

At the same time, training helps under-skilled employees catch up to expectations and find meaning and satisfaction in their work.

Business coaching sees development opportunities as essential for successful organizational scaling and success.

Providing Mentoring and Coaching

Sometimes skill, knowledge, clarity, and development opportunities aren’t among the reasons for an employee’s poor performance. Sometimes, other factors come into play.

One-on-one coaching allows leaders to uncover the less obvious reasons and work with problem employees to find solutions to their issues. For leaders who can’t afford to coach employees directly, assigning a mentor is an option.

Pairing employees with more experienced mentors allows the former to unlock and understand the secrets of success at an organization.


A mentor can help problem employees overcome their limitations.

When Everything Else Fails

Disciplinary action is a measure of last resort, but it’s sometimes inevitable. When a problem employee is beyond help, leaders must look to protect their teams and organizations. They should have fair, clear, and unequivocal policies concerning disciplinary action and shouldn’t hesitate to apply them when necessary.

Problem employees can alter morale, affect productivity, and cause lasting harm to organizations and their cultures and revenue. Business coaching understands the possible impact of such employees and advises leaders to deal with them carefully but decisively in the best interest of their teams and organizations.


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