Dealing with Performance Issues

An important role of leadership is talent management. An aspect of this is managing performance. At times employees may not be meeting expectations which not only impacts their work, but also the team, engagement, relationships with stakeholders, credibility, etc. As a leader, supervisors need to be able to identify performance issues, provide coaching and address issues to help employees improve and maintain an effective work environment to meet the needs of constituents. 

Sometimes supervisors allow performance issues to continue without addressing them. This may be because they are busy, want to avoid a challenging conversation, or hope that issues will be corrected on their own over time. However, it’s important to quickly identify and address performance concerns. This is the best process to help an employee grow, reduce risks and improve efficiency. 

For most performance issues, initial steps should include setting/clarifying expectations, coaching and training to help an employee learn and adapt in their role. Remember to apply an equity lens and consider what biases you may have in each situation. 

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To effectively identify performance concerns:

  • Ensure you understand the work and performance outcomes for each employee
  • Monitor work trends, repeated behaviors or substandard work over time
  • Consider feedback from coworkers, customers or other stakeholders, but make sure that you are also making your own observations
  • Connect with each employee regularly to understand what is working well in their role and where they are having issues

When performance concerns arise (non-disciplinary steps):

Meet with the employee 

  • Connect with your employee one-on-one in a private/confidential setting 
  • Expect and accept discomfort as these conversations may not always go smoothly
  • Be specific about what you observed 
  • Be timely, ensuring the employee remembers what occurred
  • Talk about the impact the issue had on the business, team, work, etc.
  • Seek to understand - What is the employee’s feedback on the example(s) shared?

Set expectations

  • Demonstrate or outline what a successful outcome would be
  • Refer to policies, guidelines, instruction manuals, etc. that are specific to the performance concern
  • Offer training opportunities 
  • Ensure expectations are consistent across the work and/or team
  • Partner to problem solve and identify solutions 
  • Document the conversation 

Provide ongoing coaching

  • Check-in with the employee regularly to understand how things are going
  • Provide feedback (what’s working well and where improvements may still be needed)
  • Provide support and resources 

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Documentation is critical, both for non-disciplinary steps and any disciplinary action that may follow. 

Documentation tips:

  • Include the date of the meeting 
  • Specify the dates of examples discussed
  • Focus on facts only and seek to remove bias or judgment when describing an incident 
    • Example: Kayla sent an email on 1/24 that received a complaint. The customer raised a concern about Kayla’s language, feeling it wasn’t accounting for all of the factors involved in the situation vs. Kayla isn’t customer-focused and is rude to customers in her emails
  • Document policies, work rules, or other written information that pertains to coaching conversations you’ve had with the employee
  • Be thorough, clear and stay on point 
  • Save all of your notes in one place as part of the supervisory file you maintain for each employee. These notes should NOT be saved in the personnel file



When you think disciplinary steps are needed, connect with your unit HR team for guidance, templates and review of the performance concerns. 

The employee group will determine what rights employees have. Your HR team can guide you on the process, which includes ensuring Weingarten rights for all labor-represented employees, and a Loudermill hearing in which the employee has the right to share relevant information before discipline is issued.

Generally, discipline may include an oral warning, written warning, suspension and/or termination. While the progressive disciplinary process follows the above path, more egregious performance behaviors may warrant higher initial levels of discipline or even termination. Specific contracts, rules or policies applicable per each employee’s employment type may apply and govern this process. It’s important that disciplinary actions satisfy both just cause and due process. 

For labor-represented employees, a grievance may be received after discipline is issued. If this is the case, ensure your unit HR and the Employee & Labor Relations team receive a copy of the grievance and are consulted before taking additional steps. 

Common types of performance concerns by areas of performance

Job knowledge

  • Lack of understanding of policies and procedures
  • Limited expertise in required knowledge areas
  • Inaccuracies or errors
  • Unwillingness to update skills

Quality of Work

  • Customer/client dissatisfaction
  • Spoilage and/or waste of materials
  • Poor quality of final product

Quantity of Work

  • Poor prioritization
  • Untimely completion of work tasks/assignments
  • Inconsistent metrics of completion


  • Missing or tardy to meetings
  • Inconsistent follow through
  • Attendance concerns (tardiness, absenteeism, leaving without permission)


  • Lack of cooperation
  • Unwillingness to take responsibility
  • Aggressive or passive communication style


  • Insubordination
  • Alcohol or drug use at work
  • Fighting, yelling, or disruptive behaviors
  • Policy violations

Remember that the university offers a variety of resources to support employees. Supervisors should contact their local HR for assistance locating available resources.

For assistance on any of these performance management topics, please contact your unit HR for consultation.