One of my managers is competant but not performing. What can I do?

David, an executive coaching client of mine and the owner of a medium sized business, recently raised the issue of some problems he was having with a manager of one of his divisions.  According to David, the manager (Greg) repeatedly failed to complete tasks they’d discussed and agreed he would be responsible for.

After posing a series of carefully selected questions, it became apparent that the issue was one of performance management.

At face value, David was doing everything right – he had clarified the task and checked that Greg understood what to do.

David clearly trusted and thought Greg was capable of completing the tasks at hand; he even followed up on agreed tasks, reviewed the situation, and would express his frustration directly to David.

The core of problem, however, was that there were absolutely no consequences for Greg’s poor performance.

I finally asked David what message he thought he was sending to Greg, and by doing so I was able to get him to reflect on how he manages Greg’s performance.

With this in mind, I profer the following dozen practical tips for effective performance management.

  • Where ever possible, determine goals and key outcomes collaboratively; when feasible, allow your employee to have input in determining the nature of outcomes being worked towards. 
  • Clarify exactly what you expect (as specifically as possible) and ensure your colleague understands what’s expected by asking him/her to repeat back to you the agreed outcome.
  • Ensure the goal or outcome is measurable; as the famous saying goes, “what doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done”. 
  • Check with your colleague to make sure she/he believes the goals are achievable and that they believe they have the necessary skills, knowledge and resources to complete the task successfully.
  • Set realistic time-frames, taking into account other tasks and activities for which your colleague is responsible.  Remember, it’s extremely rare that the task you’re discussing is the only task on which they’re currently working. 
  • Break larger projects down into smaller component parts.  Unless a task can be completed relatively easily with one or relatively few steps, divide bigger jobs up into bite-sized, more achievable chunks.
  • Set regular review times to ensure your colleague is on track.  Depending on the nature and complexity of what’s under review, schedule times to check in and review progress. 
  • If an employee is on track and performing well, provide as much positive reinforcement as possible; shine a light on what’s right!  It’s almost impossible to praise too much or too often (as long as it’s authentic and genuine).
  • If he/she is not on track, behind schedule, or if performance is not up to the expected standards, then first, before launching into an attack or critique, ask your colleague what’s impeding her/his progress.
  • Listen carefully and keep focused (don’t, that is, allow other unrelated issues to distract from the task at hand).  Depending on the responses to your previous questions, encourage your colleague generate effective solutions.
  • Either way, confidently and assertively provide clear feedback outlining what, if anything, you’re unhappy with, what needs to be done to remedy the situation and by when you expect the revised goals to be reached (and as in step 2, ensure your colleague fully understands what’s expected).
  • Employees also need to understand that if they perform well there will be positive consequences (such as verbal praise, public recognition or even material and financial rewards such as a bonus) but that if they don’t perform adequately there be negative consequences (such as the reduction or withholding of financial bonuses and/or reduced prospects of promotion in the future).  But note: As often as possible and wherever relevant, provide positive feedback and praise publicly but deliver negative feedback or criticism privately. 

Remember that your job as a manager is to guide your employees and ensure they perform at their best. 

Some will need more help with this than others, but those managers who get this process of performance management right, will reap the rewards through better performing individuals and teams, higher retention rates, increased motivation and morale – and more positivity all round.  
Dr. Sharp’s latest book (out now) is “100 Ways to Happiness: a Guide for Busy People” (Penguin). You can find out more about corporate programs, presentations, and coaching services at and You can also ask him questions using the comments panel below.

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