I joined the company at the beg. of January as a manager to take over a team. It has been very intensive from day 1. We had deliverables even on my third day. It's my first management position.

There's a person in my team who is very friendly, well-liked and smart but also totally chaotic and unreliable. Her results have been poor and I end up doing her projects for us to meet deadlines. She's well-liked and enthusiastic but our job requires attention to detail and being at least to some extent structured, which she doesn't seem to have.

It's nothing personal. I like her as a person, think she has a great personality, it's just that her work is a source of problems for me.

I mentioned to her in our 1:1 - in general terms - how important it is to work accurately, even if it costs time. I told her that rushing through is not expected in the team and that I definitely prefer people signaling problems and us thinking together what the solution could be instead of delivering substandard solutions. I told her we are all humans and make mistakes, which is ok as long as it doesn't happen much and that we (all team members) should try to reduce the number of mistakes.

It didn't bring anything. Her work quality is still really bad.

At the same time... I'm new. Everybody, including my bosses, likes her here. I'm not sure how to deal with bad work as a new manager. Should I keep my mouth shut? Should I mention that to my boss?

  • 4
    Is it possible or practical to introduce some peer review of the work produced? Having the problem employee see the process and results of a successful employee might help them see ways to improve.
    – JonSG
    Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 23:13
  • Is she following the standard operating procedures?
    – CKM
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 17:11
  • check this post: kulkarniankita.com/leadership/underperforming-employees
    – fscore
    Commented Feb 3, 2023 at 18:29

6 Answers 6


You have to manage her. Keeping your mouth shut is deciding not to manage her. While she may be able to hang on for a while in this position at this company, you're not doing her a favor in allowing her to think that poor output and ignoring her manager's constructive criticism won't affect her employability going forward.

You should exhaust your "manager toolkit" before you involve your own manager. Going to your boss before you can honestly say you have tried everything you can could reflect poorly on you in your manager's eyes.

To manage, you should be direct and clear. Mentioning desired improvement in "general terms" is likely to be overly softened, and can be unclear to the listener. "I would like you to work on being more detail oriented," is not as direct and clear as "On Project A there was a mistake on the widget sizing and the sprocket was not properly checked and tightened. These were your responsibility, and these issues required me to step in and correct them. This position requires that I can, in general, trust that these responsibilities are being handled correctly. Can you tell me about what happened here?" You don't have to be mean or cruel - directness is a kindness, an attempt to help her recognize and correct her substandard performance.

If the pattern continues, you can call her attention to it by saying something like "This is the kind of thing we talked about earlier," or address it more fully in one on one meetings with her. Be clear that this is a real performance problem, and there will be real consequences if they are not addressed.

There will be consequences. This is the hardest part, especially as you are a new manager in this organization and may still be unsure of the norms in your organization.

If you are clear that you have the authority and ability to fire this employee for failure to perform, then if you see no improvement in the employee after a good faith effort to help her succeed in the position, you should feel free to terminate her.

If you are unclear on where your authority lies, when you have arrived at the conclusion that there is a significant chance you will decide she needs to be terminated, then you should check in with your boss. Be sure to have a list of business based reasons ready that support your conclusion. Be sure to have a list of steps taken, and any future steps you would still like to take in an attempt to resolve the issues with the employee. Ask what the norms are for pursuing a termination in your organization (PIP, consult with HR, etc.), and follow those procedures.

  • 4
    +1 There needs to be consequences for not performing quality work. You also have to protect yourself as a new manager to make sure your critiques are valid
    – jcmack
    Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 23:52
  • 2
    The part about being direct and clear here is of paramount importance in technically demanding roles. It also requires the manager to have an extensive working knowledge of why things need to be done a certain way, not just the fact that it needed to be done that way. If the employee can't convince themselves why something needs doing to a certain specification, they will find a good "why" for a different spec and deliver that, either out of previous experience or habit.
    – CKM
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 17:16

I mentioned to her in our 1:1 - in general terms... I told her we are all humans and make mistakes, which is ok as long as it doesn't happen much and that we (all team members) should try to reduce the number of mistakes.

It didn't bring anything. Her work quality is still really bad.

That doesn't sound like managing. It sounds more like a pep-talk to make sure she isn't upset.

When you have a message for someone you can deliver it multiple ways.

In this case you need to use both truth and grace.
But "all truth" comes across as harsh/mean.
And with "all grace" you'll beat around the bush so much that no one will understand what you are talking about - I'd say that's what happened. (For good reasons too: she's liked, you like her, you're new, etc.)

You need to try again with more truth added to it. Be specific, ask what happened and why about specific things that went wrong.

Document this for your records - if it doesn't work and you need to ask your boss, you'll need to be able to tell him/her what you tried and when.

Don't, as a new manager, go to your boss and say what do I do?
Go to your boss and say "I have situation X. I've tried these things A, B, C, D but it hasn't improved. What do you suggest I do next?"


Workplace performance is a multivariate equation. In an effort to flatten all of the variables and reduce the source of variability to a single person, you might miss some work practice aspects that might actually be sources of risk (low and high impact). This is because by flattening the other variables you magnify the only remaining variable, and divert all your focus to that. So you might say "Well if it was a systemic issue then more than one person would be affected," and a general response I have is many people can overcome sources of workplace variability with experience and collaboration.

Some information I might be missing is what is your under-performing employee's background, experience and tenure at your company? You've had them for a month, now: is the performance issue a here-and-now thing, or is their work consistently like that pre-dating your management? What changed?

So as mentioned in @Minocho's answer, the first thing you want to do is, in your 1:1 with the employee, be clear and concise about what your problem is with their work. Show them exactly where and why something was not done properly, and more importantly, tell them why it's actually important to meet the specification you're holding them to. We know from experience that when you run into an issue, you try to rationalize or negotiate to yourself a solution that works, and you base it on the expectations placed on you, technical constraints and your past experiences. When the three don't match up, you might get confused and make a mistake.

Multiple issues right there, and you could look at such things as: Are requirements being communicated appropriately? Is the employee trained properly? Are business practices being enforced appropriately (i.e. are employees following SOPs)? Is workload too much? etc. Try to really figure out why the mistakes are being made instead of focusing on blanket facts like it wasn't done properly or mistakes are bad.

And so the basis here is, assuming the people on your team are all suitably competent, identifying what business practices may need modifying before drawing fire to the employees in an effort to continuously improve the quality of all the work being done.

When you exhaust that effort, I think it's appropriate to distill the issue to the individual level, barring such real issues as willful ignorance and so forth.


Don't do her work for her.

Instead, once she submits it as "done" sit down with her and go over everything that's wrong with it and have her fix it. Do this every single time. Even if it means that you are reviewing the exact same work multiple times.

Eventually, one of three things will happen.

  1. She realizes the problems and makes real progress in fixing them. This is your ideal outcome.
  2. She quits. This isn't the ideal outcome but might be acceptable.
  3. She continues making the same mistakes while making no progress in fixing the problems. If this happens, you fire her. This is the worst possible outcome.

This might seem like a kindergarten thing to do but you need to be specific and uncompromising in the level of work you expect. Talking around an issue is not how good managers get the best from their employees. Also, being direct does not imply being mean. You can point out the 20 things wrong with something without making it personal.

During this period, if the projects are late due to this one employee, then that's how the dice rolls. The deliverables time frame will have to be expanded to accommodate her education. If your management comes to you to find out what's going on, explain what's happening and how you are working with this particular employee to correct it. If they insist on those deadlines being met then counter with how you would need to hire an additional worker to replace this one. Hopefully they support you as you work with the employee to get things under control. Fortunately upper management appears to like her so I'm willing to bet that they will be happy to let you help her become better.

Last thing - make sure that if something is "wrong" that you have a good reason for that being wrong. In other words you need to be able to explain clearly what's wrong, why it's wrong, what the correct way is and why that's the correct way. If you can't do that then you aren't in a position to analyze the work.


Go over recent work and point out the problematic items in a clear and objective manner. Enumerate specific problems that you want to solve going forward. It’s good to compare the results to a stronger performer’s results, highlighting the deltas.

Then collaboratively set clear and measurable goals for upcoming work—don’t just dictate new mandates, at least not at first. Let the employee be involved in identifying how to solve the problems and defining the new goals as that may help them feel in control and empowered but don’t let the employee water down or weaken the goals.

Apply the new goals equally, consistently and fairly to all members of the team. Then let the data drive subsequent discussions. They either meet the goals (and are rewarded accordingly), fail meet to the goals (receiving appropriate consequences) or choose to find a different job with different goals.

If the employee can’t create sufficient goals, or won’t accept that there’s a problem, then you will need to take a firmer hand. Clearly set your expectations and goals for their next few deliverables.

It’s also helpful if you begin discussing this with your own manager now. Call out the discrepancies now and explain the new goals that have been set. You don’t want the employee doing an end run around you and surprising your boss with claims on unfairness (or whatever). This also serves as a sanity check of your goals and expectations. As a boss, It’s easy to be to much of a hard ass.


There already has been very good answers about how to give specific feedback, so I won't get into detail on that, but one suggestion I haven't heard yet it to include your manager early on.

You write that that you are yourself quite new in the position of your manager, and it is quite acceptable that you don't know how to deal with an under-performer, these skills come with experience.

Most likely you can assume that your team member didn't purposefully do bad work. She just didn't know any better.

You can also assume that after your 1:1 she didn't purposefully decide to not change her behaviour.

Your colleague probably didn't know what to do differently to achieve better results.

If you go to your manager now and tell them that there have been first signs of under-performance and that you need their advice on how to get this team member back on track, this shouldn't look bad on you (after all you are new in your role) nor on your colleague (after all this hasn't been going on for too long).

I realize that this answer contradicts what others have written, which might be related to the fact that in different company cultures you probably need to act differently. I am assuming a company culture in which someones mistakes are tolerated as long as that someone learns from them. You need to be your own judge on what applies to your situation.

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