How to Improve Your Bottom Performers: 7 Tips to Boost Workplace Productivity

As a performance management leader, you want each team member to be a high performer. But let’s be realistic – you’ll probably be dealing with low performers more often than not. In a study by Gallup, a whopping 70% of employees don’t give their best performance

Chances are, you’re going to find a few (or a lot) of low performing employees. So, how do you improve your bottom performers? I’m here to give you 7 helpful tips that will surely boost workplace productivity. But first…

How Do You Identify a Low Performer

As an HR, It’s important to know how to identify low performers. This way, you can easily spot them in the workplace and help improve their poor performance. Here are some ways to identify poor performers:

  • “It’s not my job”. This is what bottom performer examples look like – someone who doesn’t do something outside of their job description. If there is a slight change in their tasks, they argue that it isn’t what they were hired to do. Top performers are always on the lookout for opportunities to help the team grow. 
  • “I appreciate the feedback, BUT…. This is what an employee with low performance might say. This shows that they’re not interested in feedback. They’d rather reason their way out than accept the feedback and make positive changes. Remember, top talents always want feedback. 
  •  “I don’t have any motivation”. OK, an employee might not admit this to you openly. However, you can spot workers with a lack of motivation. This is if their productivity decreases, they miss deadlines, they hardly engage, they’re always absent, they have a negative attitude, and the list goes on and on. 
  • “I don’t know”. Someone who doesn’t or can’t think out of the box is usually part of the lower performers. They don’t use their creative minds to come up with new ideas. Similar to that, they are also workers who don’t like trying something new. 
  • “Yes, but I…”. You might be able to accept if a deadline is missed because of other priorities. That will happen from time to time. However, if the missed deadline is met with lots and lots of excuses, that usually means the employee wasn’t performing well. 
  • “I wouldn’t have these problems if…”. Complainers usually underperform. They complain about the tasks, their coworkers, the managers, etc. All they do is complain when they could have used the time to put in good work. 
  • “I don’t have the skills”. A low performer always highlights their lack of skill. They try to prove that they’re not made for the specific job. A high-performing employee always looks for ways to improve their skills.  

Overall, the bottom performer meaning is someone who doesn’t produce the desired results, whether through lack of motivation, complaints, negative intent, and more. 

Read More: 7 Easy Tips For Coaching An Employee With A Negative Attitude  

7 Tips to Change a Bottom Performer Into a High Performer

No, it isn’t a good idea to fire the low-performing employees right away and hire new workers. Instead, as a mentor, you’ll want to help improve employee performance. You should improve their behavior, too.

David Burkus, a bestselling author of five books on leadership and teamwork, says:

Handling lower performers is one of the most important jobs that a leader must do. If you want a truly high-performing team—a team with psychological safety but also accountability—then you can’t just tolerate low performing employees.

With that in mind, let’s look at 7 tips to create an action plan for bottom performers:

  1. Study the external factors
  2. Stop ignoring your bottom performer
  3. Effectively communicate
  4. Provide positive feedback
  5. Connect effort to purpose
  6. Offer training
  7. Choose other alternatives

1. Study the external factors

If you’re managing out low performers, the first action plan is to study the external factors. This is because poor performance might not be the employee’s fault at all. There may be an external factor that’s bigger than them. 

For this, it’s a good idea to use W. Edwards Deming’s 85/15 rule. Here, you should always assume that 85% of the time, poor performances stem from a poor company system. Only 15% is because of the employees themselves. 

David Burkus puts it perfectly, “A bad system will beat a good person every time.” If this is the case, then you need to work on improving the system instead of the employees’ performance. This way, everyone can be part of the “highest performers” list. 

2. Stop ignoring your bottom performer

It’s so easy to put all our focus on the top performers and ignore those with performance issues. Don’t do that. For one, it shows the underperformer that what they are doing is OK. Or, the low performers aren’t motivated to do good because you’ll just ignore them anyway. 

If you want to implement an improvement plan for them, include them in the meetings, ask for their opinions, provide feedback, and keep them in the loop. This will show them that they are important and what they are doing is important, too. You’ll be surprised how this can help bottom performers change their mindset and work harder. 

3. Effectively communicate

Although it’s good to keep a bottom performer in the loop, you shouldn’t pretend that everything is fine and their poor output doesn’t affect anything.  You need to let them understand how their poor performance is affecting the company’s expectations. 

Of course, you shouldn’t accuse or blame them. Always communicate effectively with constructive feedback. This will make them listen and respect you more. 

Yes, it’s not easy to give constructive feedback to someone with underperformance, but it must be done to help them see clearly and make changes. Here’s what Burkus advises: 

Make feedback specific and optimistic. “Specific” here means that you outline exactly what behavior was observed (or what objective isn’t being met) and you offer explicit detail on actions they can take to behave better or achieve a better outcome. And “Optimistic” means that what you say and how you say it sends the message that you believe in them and their ability to make these changes.

4. Provide positive feedback

In one study by Forbes, it showed that 82% of employees appreciate positive performance feedback. If you offer more praise, a bottom performer might gain intrinsic motivation to do a better job. 

“But the person I’m dealing with is a very poor performer.” Still, try to look for something good that they do. It can be something as small as keeping their workspace clean.

Here is a real story from Unique Training & Development about a woman who took their training session:

One woman from the class took three weeks in between sessions to finally see her bottom performer doing something right. She approached him and said, “Thanks for cleaning up your work area, it really makes a big difference.” The reaction she got was a grunt. However, after that exchange, his behavior started to turn around. He went from being a person with marginal productivity, always negative in company meetings and never willing to lift a finger to help anybody; to actually being positive, hitting his daily production targets and helping out his co-workers when they struggled.

So look out for the smallest achievement and make sure to give positive feedback about it. This can make a huge difference. 

5. Connect effort to purpose

After you give constructive or positive feedback, it’s a good idea to connect effort to purpose. This means that you should stress the importance of their role for the greater good of the team or company. You need to tell low-performers that they are an important piece of the puzzle, and this is why the tasks they do are crucial. 

Most of the time, workers with poor performances are unmotivated or just plain bored. But if you let them see the purpose of what they’re doing, this can boost their motivation, excitement, and productivity. 

6. Offer training

Here’s another reason why employees have low performance – they simply don’t have the skills for certain tasks. Well, to help improve that, you need to offer proper training. 

If you take the time to train them, you’ll see a boost in task productivity. You might be wondering, “Why not just hire someone new that has the appropriate skills?” Well, the hiring process is complex, time-consuming, and expensive. If the employee is willing to learn, you’ll be better off training them instead of getting someone new. 

7. Choose other alternatives

Say you don’t have the time or resources to offer training for your bottom performers. If that’s the case, you can look for alternatives for them. Sreedhar Gade, Vice President at, puts it this way:

In case if improvement plan is not yielding results as expected, work with HR or other teams to provide alternative career options that might suit the employee’s strengths or skills. A different role or team can get the best performance out of the employee.

Final Words

If you identify poor performers in the workplace, don’t lose hope just yet. Try to create an effective action plan for bottom performers with the 7 tips that I provided. If nothing works, then that might be the time to seek a new employee. But if it works, then you’ll transform a low-performing individual into a top performer. 

About Author

Founder of With over 20 years of experience in HR and various roles in corporate world, Jenny shares tips and advice to help professionals advance in their careers. Her blog is a go-to resource for anyone looking to improve their skills, land their dream job, or make a career change.

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