Informal intervention

Guide to managing a performance issue informally.

Early intervention is key to resolving performance issues and can be started by the employee or manager. Managers should make certain they have a clear and unbiased understanding of what is happening and prepare before meeting with the employee. It may be worth checking with other managers who work nearby, or interact with your staff member, to check your assessment. Always consider whether there may be underlying factors which are contributing to or causing the performance issues.

Even a single incident of performance below the required level calls for some feedback to the employee — it can just be an informal comment rather than a meeting.

Improving performance

Not every performance issue needs a structured process. Explore other options for improving performance, such as:

  • the use of a written task list (paper or electronic)
  • continuous feedback
  • a buddy
  • changes to allocation of tasks
  • identification of relevant training
  • coaching
  • mentoring
  • more regular performance catch-ups where feedback can be given.

If an employer does not address an issue then the level of performance can become ‘normal’, which can be really hard to change.

Not addressing performance issues can result in high performing staff reducing their outputs or leaving. They feel they’re doing extra work to keep things going or it’s acceptable to perform at a lower level.

Don’t draw attention to the situation in front of others, but don’t be shy about managing performance issues. It’s also important to remember that negative feedback should be given privately.

A quick check-in with the employee to discuss the employee's performance should happen even if the performance has improved to a satisfactory level. This enables both parties to acknowledge that the issue has been resolved. The employer should provide ongoing feedback both positive and negative to the employee and should work with the employee to make sure that performance improvements are kept up.

More formal action may need to be taken if the employee's performance does not improve including a performance improvement plan , issuing formal warnings and ultimately if the issue can’t be resolved, termination of employment.

As an employee: As a manager:
If you have a problem doing your job then let your manager know as soon as possible. If you work to correct a performance issue early then it can often be done informally.
Work with your manager to find solutions to fix the issue. Remember that an employee's performance can be affected by underlying factors such as personal problems (eg health and family) or problems in the workplace (eg difficult relationships or conflict with co-workers). Consider these factors and how they can be addressed (eg flexible work arrangements, EAP).

Use the help and advice offered, work positively with your manager and fully engage with any performance improvement process.

Make notes of meetings, of issues as you go and of any help that you need.

Work positively with your employee to grow their performance; ensure they get all required training and support including on the job support, the right tools and development. Document your actions.

The employer and the employee should keep a written record of all discussions relating to any performance issues. Having this information on hand will help both if any further action is needed.

The steps to informally manage a performance issue will be the same but the length of time you need to give for improvement depends on factors such as: the type of role, nature and size of your organisation. For example, a sole charge role needs to ‘come up to speed’ on the job very quickly, while a worker in a bank will have more training to do, and a larger organisation can support time to develop.

Step-by-step guide for informal management

Here is an easy to follow step-by-step guide to managing a performance issue informally:

It is important to understand the key drivers of performance or performance issues within your work area.

It’s also important to correctly and specifically identify the problem. Some common reasons for performance issues are identified later in this guide.

The employer should determine:

  • how serious the problem is
  • how long the problem has existed, and
  • how wide the gap is between what is expected and what is being delivered.

Once the problem has been identified and assessed, the employer should organise a meeting with the employee to discuss the issue that they have identified. This can be quite informal and part of a usual catch-up or feedback conversation. This is not a disciplinary meeting.

It is important that the meeting takes place in private and in an environment that is comfortable and non-threatening, away from distractions and interruptions.

The employer should begin by holding a discussion with the employee to explain the problem in specific terms. From this conversation, the employee should be able to clearly understand:

  • what the issue is
  • why it is an issue
  • how it impacts on the workplace
  • why there is a concern.

The employer should discuss what they wish to achieve from the meeting.

The meeting should be an open discussion in which both parties discuss the issue with open minds. The employer should listen carefully to any explanation about why the issue has come about and to any other comments the employee makes.

When having this type of meeting, it’s useful to also refer to any recent positive things that the employee has done to show them that you also recognise and appreciate their strengths.

Key points for employers to remember when holding the meeting are to:

  • talk about the issue and not the person
  • explore the reasons why there is an issue
  • clarify details
  • stay relaxed and encouraging
  • summarise to check your understanding of the situation.

And, when discussing shortfalls in any area, it’s important to check that the employee:

  • is aware that it is a task that is required of them
  • has been shown what is required
  • understands the gap between what is happening and what is required.

Where possible, it’s important that a solution is formed together with the employee. Where an employee has contributed to the solution they will be more likely to accept and act on it.

When working out a solution, the employer should:

  • explore ideas by asking open questions
  • emphasise common ground
  • keep the discussion on track
  • focus on positive possibilities
  • offer assistance, such as further training, mentoring, flexible work practices or redefining roles and expectations.

A clear plan of action can be developed with the employee to implement the solution. This can:

  • reflect an understanding of performance expectations and what is to be achieved over the specified time period (development milestones)
  • clarify roles and responsibilities of the employee
  • include strategies for training and career development
  • include timeframes for improvement (these may vary depending on the issue and needs of the business, however it’s important to give an employee adequate time to improve their performance)
  • reinforce the value and worth of the role being performed.

Set a date for another meeting with the employee to review progress and discuss the employee's performance against their Expectation Review Agreement.

Helpful hint

When devising a solution, make sure it is clear and easy to follow and does not rely on 'performance-management speak'. Use everyday language for your workplace. For example, if terms such as 'KPIs' (Key Performance Indicators) aren't part of everyday language in your workplace, don't use them in performance discussions and agreements.

The employer should monitor the employee's performance and continue to provide feedback and encouragement.


The steps will be the same but the length of time you need to give for improvement depends on factors such as: on the type of role; nature and size of your organisation. For example: a sole charge role needs to ‘come up to speed’ on the job very quickly, while a worker in a bank will have more training to undertake and a larger organisation can support time to develop.

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