Managing a poor performer doesn’t need to be difficult

If you are a manager and have a poor performer in your team, then you are likely frustrated and worried. Not only about what to do about the poor performer, but also the impact the poor performance is having on the rest of the team. The first step to dealing with a poor performer is accepting that it is your problem, and you need to do something about it. That might sound obvious. However, one of the biggest blocks I have found in my experience of coaching managers who have employees who aren’t up to scratch is that they feel angry, frustrated and annoyed at the poor performer. Many managers often wish the poor performer would just leave. But in the majority of cases, at first, that’s not really going to happen. Nor is there any quick fix if it is a serious performance issue.

Some essential steps

There are some simple givens when managing a poor performer. You need to make sure that:

  • You have set reasonable expectations for the employee, with clear standards.
  • As soon as you notice someone is under-performing, find out what is wrong and how you might be able to help before the issue reaches formal status. At this stage, you need to make sure the poor performer is very clear about what is expected of them. If the underperformance is still ongoing then:
    • Gather facts and examples of poor performance, which demonstrate the employee has not met the expectations and standards set out. Be very clear about which expectations or standards the employee is not meeting.
    • Do all you can to help your employee to reach the required standard. Usually, this may involve arranging additional training, setting new objectives specifically around the outcomes they need to make to meet the specific standards; formally monitoring work so the under-performer gets regular feedback about progress. Detailed information about managing performance is set out in a handy guide by ACAS.
  • Your company should have simple policies in place about how you will deal with a poor performer. You need to make sure these are followed. Policies should incorporate ACAS guidance as a minimum. The policies need to be clear about when poor performance will be tackled formally, how long the monitoring period will be, and what the consequences are if the employee does not meet performance standards.
  • You may wish to make adjustments in certain circumstances. You aren’t always obliged to, as much depends on the impact on your business. For example, for someone suffering ill-health, you may consider making reasonable adjustments, or if someone has domestic or caring responsibilities you may consider adjusting working patterns

Settlement agreements

These are some of the steps to take when managing a poor performer, but before you begin, you should be aware of the introduction of Settlement Agreements which came into effect in July 2013.

Settlement agreements should be used with care. They are appropriate to use if it becomes clear that the employment contract has broken down, or if both sides understand there is not much hope of any improvement. Settlement agreements are completely voluntary; if the employee refuses to agree to one, then employment rights are fully preserved.

If a settlement agreement isn’t appropriate then, a manager must manage and support the employee in improving over a period of time.

Reasons to tackle your poor performer

Many managers fear to tackle poor performance because either they are not clear about what to do, they think it will take too long, the employee will react badly, or worse they might get taken to an employment tribunal. If any of those fears arise, then you must keep in mind that:

  • Your business needs employees to fulfil their contract to do the job you hired them to do.
  • If you act from facts and specific examples, then it’s easier to keep the problem (and solution) in mind.
  • Making sure you are clear about your bottom line is vital. If you don’t know what that is, then you must determine it before you take any action.
  • Remaining fair and kind, but firm; is more effective than feeling angry or frustrated.  Just because an employee isn’t performing well, doesn’t mean they are an enemy.
  • Do not accept less than great standards for your business, or team, and keep your vision of a great team in focus.
  • Get help from an expert if you really aren’t sure about what to do with a poor performer.

What’s your best tip about managing poor performance? Leave a comment below.

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