Sometimes All You Need Is A Little Nudge Or A Gentle Push

Managing underperformers at work

As a leader, you know that not all team members are created equal. Some people seem to thrive under pressure, whereas others crumble. And then there are the ones who just never seem to get their act together. How do you handle underperformers at work?

What do you do when you have a team member who isn’t performing up to standards? Is it time for a tough conversation?

On one hand, you don’t want to micromanage. But on the other hand, you also don’t want them to feel like they can get away with poor performance. Managing underperformers at work can be quite a challenge.

But sometimes, all you need is a little nudge or a gentle push.

Underperformers at work are not always aware of their poor performance and the consequences

A Dun & Bradstreet study found that 43% of employees perform poorly but are not aware of it. As a result, they are not taking steps to improve their work performance.

The consequences of poor performance can be significant for both the employee and the company. Underperformers at work tend to have lower job satisfaction and lower earnings. Continued poor performance eventually leads to job loss.

For the company, it can lead to decreased productivity, higher staff turnover, and lost customers – signs of an unhappy workplace.

Employees may often have inflated perceptions of their own performance.

Underperformers at work have a inflated perception of their performance as depicted in this comic strip
Performance Perception Comic | Courtesy: Scott Adams

When an individual is not meeting the standards of the job, it reflects poorly on the entire company. This can be extremely harmful to the culture of a workplace, as it creates an environment of negativity and mistrust.

Continued poor performance at work leads to decreased motivation and job satisfaction among employees. This causes them to leave the company, which further damages the culture. It is therefore important for companies to proactively manage underperformers at work. Address any issues with poor performance as soon as possible.

But you do not always need to take drastic measures as a remedy. Sometimes all you need is a little nudge or a gentle push.

Underperformers at work? Wake them up from their slumber

Most people want to do a good job. They want to be seen as competent and contributing members of the team. However, sometimes employees may be unaware of their poor performance at work.

They might have been getting away with poor performance for a while and have become complacent. In such a situation, you need to prod them to wake them up from their slumber.

There are three ways to go about it:

1. Talk to them privately: This is the best way to start as it will help you understand their point of view and why they think they are underperforming. It also gives you a chance to explain your expectations without sounding judgmental or confrontational.

2. Discuss it in a group setting: This is good for when you want to get the team’s perspective on the poor performance. It also lets them know that you are aware of the issue and are determined to find a solution.

3. Address it publicly: This is the last resort, and you should only use it if the first two methods haven’t worked. Use this approach sparingly, as it can damage your relationship with the team and may even lead to them becoming less productive.

Never underestimate the importance of constructive feedback

Constructive feedback comic strip
Constructive Feedback Comic Strip by EVBRO

Employees crave feedback, but often don’t know how to give or receive it effectively. Constructive feedback is key to developing employee skills and improving employee performance.

It can be the difference between an employee who meets and exceeds expectations, and one who falls short.

We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve. – Bill Gates

Contrary to what I believed thus far, most people like being told how they can do their jobs better. It’s best if you can show them how to do their jobs better. Feedback that is constructive is vital to employees’ ongoing development.

Feedback should be specific, actionable, and timely. Praise and positive reinforcement are also important, but should not be used to replace constructive feedback.


Employees need to be kept on track with continuous feedback and guidance. This is the only way to ensure that they are always working towards and meeting the company’s goals.

Have a system in place to provide regular constructive feedback to underperformers at work. This could be done through monthly or quarterly reviews or more frequent check-ins.

Another way is to give them immediate feedback when they make mistakes. This helps them learn from their mistakes and improve their work habits.

Finally, employees also need feedback on their successes. This can help them feel appreciated and motivated to continue doing great work.

Always use a non-confrontational approach while providing negative feedback. This would involve giving employees a “nudge” in the right direction instead of directly criticizing them.

Some helpful tips for employee feedback

1. Avoid using phrases such as “you always” or “you never.”

These absolutes will only make the employee feel defensive and unwilling to listen to your feedback.

2. Try phrasing your feedback in the form of a question.

For example, “Did you notice that you didn’t greet the customer when they came in?” This gives the employee a chance to reflect on their behavior and allows them to answer honestly.

3. Make sure your feedback is specific.

Instead of saying “you’re doing a terrible job,” try providing examples of what the employee could do better. This will help them understand where they need to improve and how they can go about doing so.

4. Be mindful of your tone.

Feedback can be difficult to give, but it’s important to remember that your words can come across as harsh if you’re not careful. Avoid using judgmental language or sounding condescending. Instead, try to be supportive and offer helpful suggestions.

Complacency can easily creep in and take over if we are not vigilant. Break the chain by being vigilant and providing timely feedback to your team. Remember, sometimes all it needs is a little nudge.

Need help improving employee performance and productivity. Reach out to me with your questions. Thank you.

By Nitesh Verma

Founder - Business Management Blog. I am an independent business strategy consultant, helping companies take data driven business decisions. My mission is to find and implement simple solutions for complex business problems.

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