Kym Krey


 I’m struggling with a poor performer who just doesn’t seem to improve. I’ve trained them, encouraged them, even incentivised them, but nothing seems to work. What can I do?

This is a situation so many of us have found ourselves in. And while it’s easy for us to point the finger of blame straight at our under-performer, we may have more to do with the issue than we realise.

Whilst it may be true that you have an employee who is simply unsuitable for the role, it may also be true in this scenario that the issue is a result of unclear or vague expectations, no discussion or understanding of outcomes or potential consequences and certainly no active coaching and performance management from day one. I’d also hazard a guess that there may be a healthy avoidance of a critical conversation or two!

“But shouldn’t she just know? Isn’t it just common sense? I can do it…. why can’t they? No one showed ME how to do it!”

This is the most common pitfall of all for new managers. Expecting that they should just do it!

However, if we are the leader and the one responsible for the behaviour and performance of our staff, then we must ask ourselves what we are doing to rectify the situation. How did we get to this point and where did this go off track?

Let’s have a closer look at that.

On day one, did you sit down and explain clearly exactly what was important to you in how your staff conduct themselves at work? Did you identify exactly what great service (or performance) looks like to you and exactly what your valuable customers should experience when dealing with your business?

Did you talk about what you will expect of them as a member of your team and what they can expect from you as their leader? Did you explain how their performance and progress would be measured, the KPIs or targets that would demonstrate excellent work and how you would work closely with them to ensure these standards were achieved and maintained?

And then, each week after that, did you prioritise a little time to sit with them and give them feedback on how they were going, what they were doing well and where they were not yet at the required level? Did you talk about exactly what needed to be done to get the improvement that was needed? Did you talk about issues as they occurred or ‘stew on them’ until you were so frustrated that you blurted them out in a fit of frustration?

Can we start to see the problem?

Staff rarely grow by themselves. They thrive on clear boundaries and expectations, plus your time and attention coaching, guiding and nurturing them to become the best that they can be. Just the fact that you spend this time with them regularly shows them that they’re important to you and to the business….. and that reaps results.

But let’s also look at the other issue lurking beneath this problem, and that’s AVOIDANCE. At the heart of most employee problems lies a manager’s reluctance to hold a direct conversation about performance, and so the problem just continues. Again and again…. and again.

If you see the problem but do nothing to address it, you not only ALLOW it to continue, but you TEACH your staff that it is acceptable.

So, in many cases, it is OUR behaviour that will change or prevent this situation, not just theirs!

So what is a performance conversation? It’s a discussion around accountability. A calm and unemotional talk which reviews the expectations laid out at the beginning and where the current performance is not meeting those standards.

The gap between the two should be very clear. If there’s no other reason contributing to the problem, your discussion is ultimately, “Here’s what I need from you and here’s what I’m getting. Here’s the gap. This is why that’s a problem and this is what we need to do to fix the situation and we need to do that by this date.”

Your plan is to coach them up to standard, or, if you have genuinely and thoroughly done that for a reasonable amount of time with no clear improvement, then your role is to coach them out of your business.

These conversations are rarely as intimidating as you imagine and many times, what you thought may be a breakdown of the relationship can, in fact, become exactly the BREAKTHROUGH you needed.

With the right skills and with healthy boundaries & agreements in place, almost any problem can be resolved, and performance can improve.

In summary, if you’re struggling with a performance issue, begin with your own expectations. Know exactly what you want from your staff and explain it clearly and often. Train, train, train; discuss performance constantly and positively and be prepared to acknowledge when it’s just not working and allow them to move on.

When it comes to the performance of your team, you will get what you accept.


Kym Krey is a specialist Leadership Mentor working with business owners and managers to become inspiring leaders and get real results through their teams. Contact her at