You can make managing poor performance easy

Managing poor performance can be one of the most stressful parts of managing a team. The problem is of course; good managers know that the vast majority of employees want to come to work to do a good job. When an employee is not performing, more often than not it is either because:

a)      They are in the wrong job

b)      They have problems outside of work

c)       They simply need more knowledge or information or understanding.

It takes a skilled and experienced manager to be expert and slick when it comes to raising and managing poor performance. Often teams become less than enchanted with their manager when the manager fails to address poor performance, even when the impact isn’t extreme. One of the most frustrating experiences for a team is when they feel they are carrying a member who is not pulling their weight, frustration can turn to stress when the manager simply does nothing about it.

Poor performance can appear at any stage of the employment life-cycle

Managers need to be extra vigilant in any trial period. I have seen managers give new employees the benefit of the doubt and live to rue the day they confirmed a permanent appointment when they had experienced niggling doubts during that time and failed to listen to their intuition.

What follows are some simple ways to help both prevent problems when managing poor performance and when they do occur, what to do about them.

When managing poor performance, don’t

  • Miss the telling signs in the trial period. Follow up on any issues which arise during that time.
  • Wait until the next performance review. Deal with any emerging problems as soon as they become apparent.
  • Develop an attitude or fixed view of the employee, there may be many reasons for under-performance
  • Ignore what other people are saying about someone’s under-performance; subtly check it out, if you don’t at first agree
  • Wait until a major incident or disaster occurs
  • Wait until everyone else in the workplace is totally fed up because of the underperformance.
  • Confuse a performance issue with a conduct problem. Misconduct, of course, impacts on performance, but they are two totally different issues.
  • Wait until the under-performer goes off on sick leave.

When managing poor performance do

  • Have a fair and equitable way of measuring performance for all employees
  • Use your internal policies and procedures for managing under-performance. Your policies should be designed to assist you to get it right.  If your policies hinder the process, they need to be rewritten.
  • Identify the precise areas of under-performance. Exactly what element of performance is the employee not achieving? Performance can be a lack of productivity, efficiency, effectiveness, or an underdeveloped skillset for example.
  • Gather clear examples and facts which demonstrate the level of performance. Do not rely on hearsay, because your boss told you to do it, or niggling doubts.
  • Keep an open mind about the reasons for under-performance. You do not know what is going on in the employee’s life. Don’t assume they are under-performing and they just can’t hack it.
  • Talk to the under-performer as soon as possible, and listen to what they have to say. Let them know you are concerned, not accusing.
  • Ask them about external factors, their own views about their performance, and what they think the expectations of them are. Ask them about the training and skillsets.

Be clear and organised

  • Develop a clear and SMART action plan. The outcomes of the action plan must actually prove to you that the employee is capable and willing to bridge the performance gap and be able to sustain it without constant supervision.
  • Be clear about the time-scale in which you require the performance to improve and for how long before you relax monitoring.
  • Meet regularly and give honest accurate feedback about their progress. Listen to them and amend the action plan if there are credible reasons for the lack of progress, but stick to your agreed time-scale except if there are exceptional circumstances.
  • Give them every support in terms of training, mentoring, materials and guidance they might need.
  • Be kind. The majority of people want to do well at work and it can be a nightmare experience for them if for some reason their performance isn’t up to scratch. Genuinely wish them well and hope that they succeed.
  • Be confident. You know how you want your team to work. Don’t settle for anything less, and expect great not mediocre results for your team.

Instil a sense of achievement

If you succeed in managing poor performance well and manage to raise performance, then this not only instils a sense of achievement for the employee but also gives a great message out to other staff that you are fair and tuned in to what is happening. Your team might not know when poor performance is being tackled. But they certainly do know if it is not being addressed at all.

See also  Poor performing workers biggest drain on HR departments, the survey reveals


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I help leaders develop self- mastery, helping them to become confident in their own inner guidance.

I collaborate with leadership experts, managers and HR professionals to help them get their own message and unique services and products to a wide audience.