November 13

How To Shut It Down with Underperforming Employees


Addressing underperforming employees is tough on a personal and professional level. Here’s some advice from HR Annie Consulting’s very own, Cindy Free.

When you work in restaurants, you see some shit. Co-workers storming out on shifts, dating each other, breaking up with each other, breakdowns over a beet salad ordered off the menu, covering for those who can’t keep it together after too many “tastes” of wine. Restaurant drama puts the Real Housewives of Beverly Hill’s act to shame. In my time working, I’ve definitely learned that when performance issues are ignored, the whole team has to work harder to pick up the pieces — which leads to an even bigger mess to clean up. Managers need to keep their team on track, and part of that responsibility is addressing underperforming employees.

We spoke with Cindy Free of HR Annie Consulting — a human resources consulting firm based in Portland, OR — to help you navigate addressing performance issues, so that you can do it professionally, legally and hopefully not have to part ways with valuable employees.

Create an Employee Manual 
Creating an employee manual that states your company mission, values, codes of conduct and employee expectations lays out a solid foundation for everyone to follow — even managers. This type of documentation can help managers better identify when poor performance issues arise and know when to address them. “Referring to the employee handbook, standards of conduct, and company norms for customer experience are all good gauges of what would be considered poor behavior,” states Cindy. Employee manuals are also a great tool for leading performance discussions. A manager can use the manual as a resource for identifying the performance issue to the employee, and what needs to be done to move forward successfully.

“Those that are newer to management and have not been given a lot of training on performance communication should always escalate the situation they are encountering with an employee who is not performing well.”

Manage in the Moment
Don’t wait to address underperforming employees. It might be uncomfortable and take time to get used to, but addressing things sooner will help your employees avoid developing bad habits and keep things relevant. “Waiting to have performance conversations when you haven’t addressed issues over time, can come across as blind-siding the employee and lead to less productive conversations.” says Cindy, “Part of manager development is learning to have ‘managing in the moment’ conversations. This helps managers address poor employee behavior so hopefully it doesn’t escalate in the future, and bubble up to a place where everyone is more frustrated than needed.” Create the opportunity for an employee to improve and succeed by addressing issues as they occur. This doesn’t have to be on the spot, but within the amount of time that the issue is still relevant and where you can help the employee understand what went wrong and how things should be handled.

Assess the situation
Always assess a situation and whether you should escalate the issue to a higher manager, or have an additional manager as a witness when talking to an employee about performance issues. “Those that are newer to management and have not been given a lot of training on performance communication should always escalate the situation they are encountering with an employee who is not performing well.” Cindy continues, “One reason is that it’s hard to have critical conversations, so use the resources within the company as support. Another reason is, if the company has multiple managers, locations, or divisions, it’s very important that performance is managed consistently company-wide. If not, this can lead to lawsuits and other very time-consuming issues.” Cindy continues to explain that managers should never feel like they’re out on their own and bringing in backup when talking to underperforming employees can help you learn how to handle situations better, as they come up in the future.

Keep Documentation 
Document all occurrences of employee performance conversations to keep a record of your conversation, course of action, and necessary timelines. “Documentation can be pretty creative,” Cindy states,  “But consider implementing a more structured Coaching/Counseling/Discipline form in the company, so all managers have a consistent guide to help them with the documentation process, and employees know what to expect from performance conversations.” A Coaching/Counseling/Discipline Performance Improvement Plan, or PIP, is a form of documenting the performance issue being addressed, how it was addressed (through coaching, counseling or discipline), goals set for the employee and any timelines put in place. This document should be shown to the employee, so that everyone is on the same page. Keeping documentation is important in referencing improvements, on-going issues and in case of any liability issues that might arise.

Here’s an example from Cindy of what a PIP form might look like:

Reason for coaching/counseling:
What are the discussion items?
What is the action/change needed?
What are the goals to achieve the action/change needed?
When must the action take place?
Employee Signature:
Manager Signature:
*To be filed in the employee’s personnel file

Confrontation can be a pain in the ass, but the quicker you handle underperforming employees, the better your team will be in the long run. Sometimes issues are just a matter of poor training and can easily be fixed. Other times they’re more difficult and might result in you and the employee parting ways. No matter the outcome, you and the employee will be better for it. So go tackle some performance issues confidently!

About the author


Ashley McNally likes to cook, loves to bake, and is always dreaming of her next meal. With over 13 years of experience working in various roles within a restaurant — McNally has made a home in hospitality.


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