A manager discusses KPIs with his team.

How to Manage Employees Who Aren’t Delivering on Their KPIs

KPIs or key performance indicators can be a great way to track the progress of a group or a single employee. They allow you to measure progress and keep track of where the group is at.

But what happens when an employee isn’t meeting their KPIs? 

This can be a difficult and sometimes awkward conversation to have with an employee. Read on to learn more about how you can manage employees who aren’t making their KPIs.

What are KPIs?

KPIs are also known as key performance indicators and they are used to measure progress towards a goal. When set correctly, they can be a great way for a manager to stay in the know regarding the progress of a team or employee. 

Setting KPIs includes picking out targets as well as tracking the work towards those targets with smaller goals. Good KPIs will have all of the following:

  • Will be a form of evidence of progress
  • Measure what is intended to be achieved
  • Offer comparison against other teams or groups
  • Tracks efficiency
  • Has a clear timeline
  • Achievable

If KPIs aren’t set properly, it is highly likely that as a manager you will be unable to track the progress of a team. Therefore before you assign a team to begin work, you should take the time to develop KPIs.

What if KPIs aren’t Established?

KPIs are critical to being able to measure progress. Without them, you as a manager can never actually be sure if the assigned work is being accomplished or not. 

Additionally, many employees struggle with projects when KPIs aren’t established because it is difficult to work towards goals that aren’t clear to you. This can cause employees to work towards something in the wrong direction, or not work efficiently with the goal in mind. 

The point is KPIs are synonymous with goals during a project and without these goals to check in on how your team is doing, they are unlikely to accomplish what they set out to do. 

Three men sit on couches with laptops having a discussion.
It’s important to discuss your concerns with the entire team or employee in question. 

How to Manage Employees Not Meeting KPIs

Unfortunately, even the best laid KPIs can be left unmet. When this is the case, it can leave you with a very awkward conversation with an employee or group of employees. Below is the proper procedure for managing employees who are not meeting their KPIs.

1. Talk to the Team as a Whole

The first step to manage employees who are not making KPIs is to find out what is going on. If it’s a team project, arrange to speak to the team as a whole. 

If it’s an individual not meeting KPIs, plan a one-on-one discussion with them. Do not make this sound bad and in either case, you should approach these meetings with an open mind.

Here is a brief outline of how this discussion should look so that it doesn’t seem like an attack. 

  • Start with pleasantries
  • Ask members of the team how their lives are going outside of work (not in too much depth)
  • Ask how the project is going
  • Ask the team to provide an analysis of their performance. 

As you can see by this outline, this will be a fairly long discussion. But in order not to alienate employees, you must start by finding out what is going on in the lives of your employees.

You never know when the reason a team may not be meeting KPIs is that one of the key members had been out sick, or because of the death of a family member in recent months. Oftentimes this information will come up during a quick discussion of asking employees how they are faring. 

The next two parts of the meeting will mostly be supplied by the team as they self-evaluate how the project is going and their performance. Pay close attention as you listen to their responses.

If the responses differ greatly, or arguments break out during the discussion this is an indication that teamwork is a huge player in why the group is not making KPIs. When this is the case, divide the employees and interview them each individually to get a more clear picture of where the team is at. 

2. Discuss What is Non-Negotiable

After speaking with the team or employee, it’s time to decide which of the KPIs laid out are non-negotiable. You may prepare this ahead of the meeting, or you may adjourn the meeting and schedule a second one later to give you time to decide.

When you are prepared, present the employee or team with the non-negotiables. For example, even if a team isn’t meeting KPIs, explain that you expect their progress reports to be turned in to you each week, even if nothing has changed. 

Even with the unpredictability of the business world, explain to your team or employee that you expect a certain level of job completeness. Let them know that while you know they cannot always complete everything, they must complete a certain percentage of tasks each week. 

3. Align With Their Goals

Just listing the non-negotiables will not automatically turn a failing employee or team into a high-performing one. You have to make the KPIs of the job align with their personal goals in life. 

When an employee includes the KPIs as part of their personal goals within the company this will help motivate them to improve their performance. This is why, if you haven’t yet, now is the time to have individual talks with each member of the team. 

This is a good opportunity to discuss with your employee where they would like to go within the company. Do they want more autonomy? Or perhaps they want to change positions or rise up the ranks. Either way, embed these goals within the current KPIs. 

You may also find, during this step, that more work is being done than you anticipated, the KPIs just aren’t showing it. When this happens, it may be time to re-evaluate the KPIs to help them to better fit the work being completed. 

If your employee doesn’t seem to have goals within the company, this is a bad sign. Paired with the non-deliverance of KPIs, this is a sure sign that your employee has lost interest in their work

4. Be Specific and Name Behaviors

Letting your employee know that they aren’t meeting your KPIs isn’t enough. You need to tell them why you think this and provide proof to back up your claims. You also need to say these things in a non-accusatory manner.

For example, if you feel an employee is not engaging in a project because they never answer your emails say “I feel you aren’t very engaged in the project because every time I email you I don’t get a response.” 

As you can see the above sentence is much more personable than just saying “You’re disengaged.” It also provides the employee with a solution to fix the problem. They now know that to improve their engagement they need to answer your emails more frequently. 

This is also the time to address teamwork issues. Demanding that someone gets along with a team isn’t the way to go. Instead, ask why they are finding it difficult not to argue with other team members.

Sometimes, a team may not be right for one another. This discussion will let you know that. It may be as simple as the employee needing to let off some steam about a previous incident but then they go forward and work well with the team afterward. 

5. Involve The Employee in Plan Design

Now is the moment to decide how you and the employee will proceed to ensure that KPIs are met. Let them help you design the plan so that you can ensure it is something they feel they can achieve. 

Continuing with the previous example of disengagement, the employee may decide that in order to improve their engagement, they need 15 minutes of uninterrupted email time at the end of each day. They may also ask that you remind them if you haven’t received an email from them within a certain time frame.

No matter what solution you come up with, ensure it is something you are both okay with going forward, and that it is a plan the employee will stick with. 

6. Plan Another Meeting

Solving the problem of employees not meeting their KPIs can sometimes be as simple as a single sit down, but you should also schedule check-ins to ensure the plan the two of your devised is being put to work. 

Give the employee 4-8 weeks before the next meeting, depending on the improvements you want to see. Then, you should schedule a third meeting after that. If the employee is back on track at the second and third meetings, then it is probably safe to say your discussion worked. 

What to do When There is no Improvement

There may come a time, after several meetings, when you realize that an employee will never be able to meet their KPIs. At this point, it may be best to consider letting the employee go.

Letting an employee go is best done through another sit-down like the previous ones you’ve had (which you should have had at least 2 by this point). Let them know that you don’t want to let them go, but unfortunately, you aren’t seeing any improvement on the items you have discussed multiple times.

While the employee will likely be upset, at this point it is likely that their heart isn’t in the job anyway, because if it was, they would have worked to correct problems discussed in the previous meetings.

If the employee is part of a team that isn’t meeting KPIs, consider removing them from that team. You can also consider offering the employee a different position within the company that would be a better fit for their skills.

Either way, when an employee cannot meet KPIs with your help, this is a sign that they aren’t a good fit for the project at hand. Continuing to have the employee on that project after you come to this realization will only cause your company to lose money. 

Changing KPIs Mid-Project

Remember that sometimes the problem may not be the team of employees, but rather the original KPIs set at the beginning of the project. In newer industries, like software testing, it can be difficult to know what to expect and therefore KPIs may need to be revised along the way.

KPIs should only be changed when an entire team of people is having difficulty reaching a target due to a technical issue that is out of their control. You should never change KPIs due to team absences or arguments. 

When you do decide to change KPIs, sit down with the team and ask for their input. Find out what they believe is feasible and what won’t work. Let them know that you expect them to reach these KPIs.

Don’t be afraid to revise KPIs multiple times, especially when your company is in a new or emerging industry, just ensure that you aren’t changing KPIs for the purpose of retaining a certain employee. 

Two gentlemen talk while seated at a table.
Caption: Taking one-on-one time with the employee is the best way to find a solution to unmet KPIs.

Ready to Help Your Employees Meet their KPIs?

Whether you are worried about a team or an individual employee meeting KPIs, it can be a difficult discussion to sit down and have with them. You want to approach this the right way to ensure an employee doesn’t respond with defensiveness or hostility to your discussion.

Start by asking them for their review of their own performance and follow by discussing how they can improve. Once you have given your employee(s) a chance or two, if they still continue to not deliver KPIs, you may have to consider letting them go. 

Want to work on boosting your relationship with your team before you need to have these hard conversations? Work to better your employee relations with tips from this article starting the minute you become a manager. 

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