Unlocking Potential: A Guide to Coaching Underperforming Employees

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In every workplace, there will be times when employees don’t meet the expected standards of performance. It’s a common challenge faced by managers and leaders, but it’s also an opportunity to help your team members grow and excel. Coaching underperforming employees is a skill that can transform a struggling worker into a high-performing asset. In this blog post, we’ll explore the warning signs of underperformance, and offer strategies used in coaching underperforming employees to help them reach their full potential and contribute to the success of your organization.

Recognizing the Signs of Underperformance

Recognizing the Signs of UnderperformanceRecognizing the signs of underperformance in employees is essential for effective management and coaching. Here are some common signs to watch for:

  • Decreased Productivity

A noticeable decline in an employee’s output, such as missed deadlines, delayed project completion, and decreased work quality, can indicate underperformance.

  • Increased Absenteeism or Tardiness

Frequent unexplained absences or chronic lateness can be a sign of disengagement or personal challenges affecting performance.

  • Reduced Engagement

Employees who are underperforming often exhibit a lack of enthusiasm for their tasks, limited participation in team discussions and meetings, and an overall disengaged demeanor.

  • Distancing from Colleagues

Underperforming employees may withdraw from social interactions, demonstrate decreased collaboration with team members, or exhibit a change in attitude toward their colleagues.

  • Frequent Complaints or Conflicts

If you receive consistent complaints from colleagues or clients regarding an employee’s work or notice an increase in workplace conflicts and tension. Then, it may indicate underperformance.

  • Unwillingness to Learn or Adapt

Resistance to training, feedback, or suggestions for improvement. These can be a sign that an employee is struggling to adapt to changing circumstances or acquire new skills.

  • Discrepancy between Goals and Performance

A failure to meet previously set goals and objectives, misalignment between an employee’s job description and their actual performance, or a lack of progress in professional development can highlight underperformance.

  • Lack of Initiative

Employees who are underperforming may show a lack of initiative, fail to take on new responsibilities, or offer ideas for improvement.

  • Lack of Teamwork

An employee who isolates themselves, refuses to collaborate with the team or consistently undermines team efforts can hinder overall team performance.

  • Failure to Follow Company Policies

Consistent violations of company policies, such as attendance, ethics, or safety policies, can signal a lack of commitment or understanding of their role.

Recognizing these signs allows managers to take proactive steps in addressing underperformance. Whether through coaching, additional training, or other appropriate measures to help employees improve their performance. And contribute positively to the organization.

Strategies Used In Coaching Underperforming Employees

Coaching underperforming employees requires a thoughtful and strategic approach to help them improve their performance and reach their full potential. Here are some effective strategies to guide you in this process:

Open and Honest Communication

Open and honest communication is the cornerstone of any successful coaching process. Start by initiating a private and respectful conversation with the underperforming employee. Create a safe space where they can openly express their thoughts, challenges, and concerns. Encourage them to share their perspective on their performance and its underlying causes. It’s essential to strike a balance between providing constructive feedback and maintaining a supportive, non-confrontational tone.

Identify the Root Causes

To effectively coach underperforming employees, it’s vital to dig deep and identify the root causes of their underperformance. Is it a matter of lacking the necessary skills or knowledge for their role, or are there motivational and personal challenges at play? By working closely with the employee, you can gain insight into the specific factors contributing to their underperformance. This diagnosis is critical as it informs the development of a targeted coaching plan that addresses the root issues.

Set Clear Expectations

Set Clear ExpectationsSetting clear expectations is fundamental for any employee’s success, particularly those who are underperforming. Clearly define the employee’s job responsibilities, performance standards, and what is expected of them. This includes outlining specific tasks, deadlines, and quality benchmarks. Make sure they understand the company’s mission and their role in achieving it. Establishing these clear expectations provides a baseline for the employee to measure their progress and align their efforts with organizational goals.


SMART goals are an invaluable tool in coaching underperforming employees. Collaborate with the employee to set Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound goals. These goals should be directly related to the areas in which they need to improve. By making the goals specific and measurable, you provide a clear path for both the employee and yourself to track their progress. Setting achievable and relevant goals ensures that they are realistic and in line with the employee’s role and the organization’s objectives. The time-bound element adds a sense of urgency and a deadline for achieving these objectives.

Individualized Coaching Plans

No two employees are the same, and their coaching plans shouldn’t be either. Tailor coaching plans to meet the unique needs and challenges of the underperforming employee. Consider their learning style, strengths, and weaknesses when crafting the plan. Individualized coaching plans may involve a combination of skill development, mentorship, and additional training resources, all designed to address the specific issues contributing to their underperformance.

Regular Feedback

Providing regular and consistent feedback is an integral part of the coaching process. Feedback should be timely, specific, and focused on observable behaviors. It’s important to highlight both areas of improvement and areas where the employee is excelling. Constructive feedback helps the employee understand their progress and make necessary adjustments. Regular feedback sessions serve as checkpoints to assess whether they are meeting the goals and expectations outlined in their coaching plan.

Training and Development

Identifying areas where the employee may need additional training and development is essential to address their underperformance. Once these gaps in skills or knowledge are identified, offer opportunities for improvement. This might involve internal resources, such as workshops online courses, or external training programs and certifications. The goal is to provide the underperforming employee with the tools and knowledge they need to excel in their role.

Mentoring and Shadowing

Mentoring and shadowing can be powerful strategies for coaching underperforming employees. By pairing the underperforming employee with a high-performing colleague or mentor, you create a valuable learning experience. This mentor can offer guidance, share best practices, and provide real-world examples of successful performance. Observing someone who excels in their role can inspire and motivate the underperforming employee, offering practical insights that can lead to improved performance.

Motivation and Recognition

Motivation and RecognitionUnderstanding what motivates the underperforming employee is crucial. People are motivated by different factors, including intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. By identifying what drives the individual, you can use appropriate incentives to boost their enthusiasm. Additionally, recognize and celebrate their small achievements. Positive reinforcement and acknowledgment of their efforts can help maintain morale and motivation.

Constructive Problem-Solving

Effective coaching involves collaboratively working on solutions to address the identified performance issues. Engage the underperforming employee in the problem-solving process. Encourage them to share their ideas and suggestions for improvement. As a coach, you should also contribute your insights and expertise to jointly develop strategies for overcoming obstacles and achieving performance goals. This collaborative approach fosters ownership and accountability for the improvement process.

Performance Improvement Plan (PIP)

In cases where initial coaching efforts do not yield the desired results, a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) may be necessary. A PIP is a formal document that outlines expectations, goals, and consequences for not meeting performance standards. It serves as a clear roadmap for the underperforming employee to understand what is expected and the potential outcomes if performance does not improve. PIPs are typically used when there are significant performance issues that require a structured and documented approach.


It’s critical to maintain documentation throughout the coaching process. Document all discussions, agreements, and progress made during coaching sessions. This record-keeping serves as a reference in case further action is required, such as implementing a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) or addressing ongoing performance issues. Accurate documentation helps establish a clear history of the coaching process, ensuring transparency and consistency in your approach.

Transition or Termination Plan

In cases where all coaching efforts fail to improve an underperforming employee’s performance, you must be prepared with a transition plan or, if necessary, a termination plan. A transition plan outlines a path for the employee to transition to a different role within the organization, if available. A termination plan, on the other hand, involves the process and legal considerations for ending the employment relationship. While termination is a last resort, having a well-prepared plan is crucial to ensure a smooth and legally compliant transition if it becomes necessary.

Continuous Support and Encouragement

Continuous Support and EncouragementThroughout the coaching process, maintain a stance of empathy and support. Let the underperforming employee know that you are invested in their success and growth. Provide continuous encouragement and be available to address their questions and concerns. By demonstrating your commitment to their development, you create a more positive and trusting coaching relationship, increasing the likelihood of successful outcomes.

Remember that coaching is a dynamic and ongoing process. Your support remains crucial throughout the journey to improvement.


In conclusion, coaching underperforming employees is a vital process that can lead to positive transformations within a workplace. By recognizing the signs of underperformance and implementing effective strategies like clear communication, goal-setting, and individualized coaching plans, managers can help struggling employees reach their full potential. It’s essential to provide continuous support, constructive feedback, and a nurturing environment.

Ultimately, a commitment to employee growth and a proactive approach to addressing underperformance can contribute to a more successful and harmonious workplace, benefiting both individuals and the organization as a whole. Thus, if you looking for online coaching MantraCoach is here to help. Book your free trial online coaching session now to connect with a specialist coach.

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