Managing Poor Performance – employees don’t improve by magic!

We have all seen poor performance in the workplace and when it's your responsibility to deal with it then it can be quite daunting.  Managing poor performance is always a challenge and even more so when someone who used to be a star performer or just good at their job, gradually allows their performance to decline to a level of being no longer acceptable.

Dealing with underperformance is always difficult as no two circumstances or underperformers are ever the same. It does not matter how many times one has dealt with a similar scenario, achieving a turnaround in a poor performance situation requires a true focus on the individual and the individual circumstances.

Whilst each situation is different, there are some key principles that each people manager can apply when managing poor performance.

Question rather than assume

The first step is to always find out what has happened and there is no better way to do this than to actually have a conversation with the employee.  It's very important to go into the initial conversation with an open mind.  You can't have already reached a conclusion as to why the employee is underperforming.  You need to question the employee about a project, ongoing work, a particular incident, etc. Once you have had a conversation with the under performer you will be able to assess whether this is something that can be resolved quickly (i.e. a clear gap in the skills levels requiring a short course) or whether this will require a more involved performance management process to take place.

Set Clear Standards

I know that most of you are nodding your heads at this statement but you will be surprised to know that whilst the idea is supported and understood by at least 99% of managers, only about 45% actually put this into practice. Even your best performers will eventually find it difficult to produce effective outcomes if no standards, objectives or goals are set for them. We all perform best when we are striving towards a goal and ideally one that is challenging and gives room for development of our skills.

Review Regularly

Whilst it's obvious that you need to review progress day jobs often get in the way of having regular conversations.  If you are dealing with underperformance and you have started the process by making the employee aware that there are issues, you absolutely must ensure that you make time for regular reviews. Progress needs to be regularly evaluated by you to ensure that those standards/goals that you have set are clear to the employee and also to ensure that you are providing any support that is needed. If you do not have regular reviews it is more than likely that your under performer will not show improvement and you may end up having to consider a departure for the employee when this may have been avoided.

Make it Clear to the Employee

If you have an under performer, you need to tell them that they are actually not meeting the standards of performance. We are all guilty of dressing up our message to the employee and it often ends up being that the employee doesn't actually hear what we need them to hear.  We've mentioned previously the danger of using the say something nice - then deliver the more difficult message - then say something nice again and this is particularly true when managing an under performer.   This type of a diluted message will not help you achieve any improvements in their performance. You need to be clear with the underperformer that their level of performance is not meeting the standards and that you need to see improvements. If this message is not delivered, the employee will continue to work at the same standard of performance for they simply do not know that there is any major problem.

So next time you have an under performer, just quickly go through this short checklist (as basic as it might seem) to make sure that you ARE actually taking the steps to deal with the issue. And if in doubt, do give us a call on 0203 319 1649 and we can chat your situation through with you.  We want all of your employees to be your star performers!

We run regular free seminars that provide practical guidance on a range of HR issues and there is one in November that covers giving feedback.  Find out more and sign up at our Events page.

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Increase your knowledge and skills in key HR areas!

  • Keep up-to-date on changes in employment law and HR best practice.
  • Increase your skill in key areas such as managing absence or giving feedback.

These are open sessions where you'll have the opportunity to meet other people who face the same challenges as you.

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