4️⃣How to address underperformance

👋 Introduction

People don't underperform on purpose. It is usually a result of misalignment of expectations, skills, working relationships, or combinations thereof.

However, important deliverables or being understaffed are not good reasons to keep a team member stagnant at the same level of sub par performance. It's not fair to them, to their team members, clients or managers.

1️⃣ Notice underperformance (1-3 months)

Underperformance can be called out by two people: the manager who sees it and the individual who feels they are underperforming.

Manager's responsibility

A manager’s response to "Is this the best person I could hire today?" should be a resounding "Yes!". When that changes, it could be for a few reasons:

  • Over 1-2 months, there has been a gradual and consistent drop in performance

  • Over 1-2 months, There are instances of big impact errors, where the person has the skills needed but has made errors in execution

  • Over 2-3 months, learning and picking up nuances of the project (technical or otherwise) has not happened at the pace needed for the work at hand.

  • Any other situation where the person has been told what is expected of them, and owing to them not picking up the pace, others in the team have to pitch in.

Team member's responsibility

If there are circumstances in your life that cause you to be less effective immediately tell your manager. It isn't required to give details if you prefer not to. Tell your manager when it started, to what extend it hinders your work, and what your forecast is for it to get better.

When you delay this conversation until your manager identifies underperformance you've lost trust that would be helpful to get through this period.

2️⃣ Manager’s next steps (1-3 days)

  1. Be quick—Taking early action on underperformance is one of the most important ways to get results and an essential managerial skill. Taking action sooner allows the action to be less severe and allows more time for coaching to have an effect.

  2. Notify manager’s manager— They can help advising proportional actions to address it. Trust that your manager will extend the required empathy, support and time.

  3. **Identify the gap—**Use the growth framework, skills and levels. Identify specific examples to determine where the team member is and where they need to be. Identify the degree of the difference if there’s a reasonable chance that it can be covered.

  4. Understand options—Be prepared for the spectrum of possible outcomes: on one end, the team member uses the opportunity and support to grow and come up to speed; on the other, be prepared for the realisation that the team members may be more successful with a different set of circumstances, possibly at another company.

3️⃣ Offer a PIP (1-3 months)

PIP is not a first step to letting someone go. We should only offer a PIP if we are confident that the team member can successfully complete it. And the team member is committed to successfully completing the PIP.

  1. Identify 1-3 key areas of improvement.

  2. Identify 1-3 months timeline for improvement

  3. Offer the option of a PIP to the team member

  4. Document the process in an email

  5. Review weekly / monthly for progress

  6. Conclude the PIP

4️⃣ Letting someone go

Important: This should be discussed with both the Executive team and with People Ops before any action is taken in order to ensure it is done in compliance with local laws and regulation.


As soon as you know you'll have to let someone go, do it immediately and with respect. The team member is entitled to know where they stand. Delaying it for days or weeks causes problems with

  • confidentiality (finding out that they will be let go),

  • causation (attributing it to another reason), and

  • escalation (the working relationship is probably going downhill).


  1. Set meeting—The People Ops person, the manager and their manager gather the PIP results and share that with the team member in a closed-door meeting.

  2. Share news—The team member is asked if they have any disagreements on the decision. If there are none, they are told that the typical process is that they resign, as opposed to there being a termination process. The rest of the organisation can be told by them in their own time and pace that they are resigning.

  3. Confidentiality—This process stays with the original team that needed to know this information. This is done to ensure the exit is respectful, the person feels they can continue to honour the friendships they have made in their stay in the organisation without any negative feelings, and their future employment options are not hampered.

  4. Exit date—A date for the exit is agreed upon (The individual or the organisation can decide on an early exit date and serving of the notice period can be waived off if that suits the work schedule).

  5. Resignation—The person sends in their resignation by email within the next 3 working days, addressed to the people in this meeting. That resignation is accepted, the last date is decided, the person can start informing others.

  6. Last week—In the week of exit, the final settlement process, exit interview and farewell ritual is carried out.

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