How to Handle Underperforming IT Staff?

July 12, 2017

In any management role you do not only have to oversee that everything in your department runs smoothly regarding systems, but you are also responsible for the performance of your staff.

When targets aren't met and this can be attributed to some of your staff, you probably find yourself asking questions like: Why are they under-performing? How do I get enough action from my team? What do I do when individual achievements are not up to par? How do I keep people motivated and encouraged without dictating what needs to be done? Or is it time to part ways?


One of our IT Leader Mastermind groups recently tackled this question. Here is a summarised version of the outcomes.

The Mastermind Answer

The first thing to do, would to be to take a step back and evaluate the situation. It is important to get an overall idea of what the problem can be. This needs to be approached as a human (resources) problem, not a technical one.

Remember that employees generally want to do their work well. What is blocking their performance? Is it maybe a lack of knowledge or training? Are responsibilities not clearly allocated and KPIs not defined? Or is it possibly you, who is micro-managing?

It is imperative that you keep an open mind and to attack the problem and not the person. A good idea would be to go offsite for a coffee/lunch and a talk with the staff member in question. This will remove the manager label, making it easier to talk.

Solving this problem needs to be something you want to do for this person, so you need to make an honest attempt to help and take any idea of getting rid of them off the table for now. Remember you are doing this to make not only their life, but also yours a lot easier.

If you struggle or there are obvious problems, it would be ideal to get get the experts in managing staff, the Human Resources department, involved.

Work with HR to figure out how to resolve the situation and get more performance from the individual(s) in question. It is important to not necessarily be in the room when HR talks with the individual, to ensure autonomy.

A longer term goal would be to introduce a career development plan for each of your staff. To do this you need to find out what a person wants to do and where they see themselves in 5 years to ensure that they reach short and medium term goals.

This will give them a target to work towards and serve as a motivational factor, while also helping you manage your expectations better.

When creating this plan, work with the person instead of just being prescriptive, and spend enough time on it.

Some More Insights

  • Be careful about character clashes between the technicians and the IT manager. It might be possible for personal dissimilarities to cause problems, therefore character differences need to be taken into account.
  • You need to realise that some people don't want to grow as they are comfortable and happy where they are now. This does not mean that they don't need to perform at their level, though.
  • It is important to evaluate all aspects of the problem, the employee's part and yours. Keep an open mind. The problem could be with you and your management style and not with the attitude of the employee, therefore you need to look at all the factors and be 100% honest with yourself.

Pro Tip

Without a reason to do something, it will not be done.

This statement means that it is essential to ensure that employees are properly driven and understand why they are doing something. There is a string of motivational theories in Psychology to help you find the correct combination for you and your employees to ensure that they are motivated and you receive the performance you require. Once more do engage with HR to assist you here.

Other Links

Links to different Motivational theories:

About the author

André was a member of the Xuviate team until June 2019. He has more than 20 years of experience in Information Technology with a primary focus on designing and developing software solutions on all application tiers. Also, he has a solid theoretical background in curriculum studies and a thinker on the topic of new education.

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