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Managing poor performance at work: A checklist for managing underperformance

Two businessmen women having a one to one meeting - managing poor performance.

When it comes to man­ag­ing poor staff per­for­mance, you need to act quick­ly. Whether you are look­ing for advice on man­ag­ing under­per­for­mance of an employ­ee, or you’re look­ing for a plan for man­ag­ing an under­per­form­ing team, our poor per­for­mance check­list is designed to increase pro­duc­tiv­i­ty lev­els at your organisation.

Employ­ees aren’t robots. When you lead a team, you man­age human beings, which means work life isn’t always pre­dictable. Some­times, you’ll be impressed with your team’s over­all per­for­mance and pro­duc­tiv­i­ty lev­els, but oth­er times, poor per­for­mance will rear its ugly head. When this hap­pens, you’ll need a plan of action to turn things around.

Our step-by-step per­for­mance check­list cov­ers every­thing you need with man­ag­ing under­per­for­mance, from how to dis­cuss poor per­for­mance with an employ­ee, to for­mal pro­ce­dures that can be tak­en if per­for­mance doesn’t improve.

Man­ag­ing Poor Per­for­mance Check­list Item #1: Define the Core Per­for­mance Issues

To cor­rect poor per­for­mance, you must first be clear on the core per­for­mance issues at hand. The prob­lem must be defin­able. You must be able to clear­ly describe the issue result­ing in poor work per­for­mance. This step is the most cru­cial and basic — if you can’t do this, you can’t com­bat poor per­for­mance at all.

This step begins by analysing the employee’s work per­for­mance. Look at how your employ­ee oper­ates. Gath­er data and infor­ma­tion and under­stand exact­ly what is going wrong.

Let’s say poor per­for­mance is relat­ed to pro­duc­tiv­i­ty. Sim­ply say­ing your mem­ber of staff is unpro­duc­tive is not a clear-enough per­for­mance issue. Why aren’t they pro­duc­tive? Be spe­cif­ic. It could be a lack of sales. It could be an inabil­i­ty to hit dead­lines. What­ev­er the rea­son, it must be defin­able. If the prob­lem is behav­iour­al, refer­ring to your organisation’s behav­iour or com­pe­ten­cy frame­work (if one exists) can help you artic­u­late the issue.

When you meet with your employ­ee to dis­cuss their per­for­mance, leave hearsay at the door. Dis­cuss spe­cif­ic inci­dences, come armed with emails or any doc­u­men­ta­tion you can gath­er to back up your point, and demon­strate that what you are say­ing isn’t per­son­al — it’s a very real prob­lem that you want to address and resolve.

Expert Tip:

When iden­ti­fy­ing core per­for­mance issues, do not over­bur­den your employ­ee. Focus on fight­ing one prob­lem at a time. Once per­for­mance improves, move to oth­er areas.

Man­ag­ing Poor Per­for­mance Check­list Item #2: Dis­cuss What Might Be Caus­ing the Per­for­mance Issues

Per­for­mance issues don’t just hap­pen — there is always an under­ly­ing cause. As HR exec­u­tives and line man­agers, it is our respon­si­bil­i­ty to get to the root of this prob­lem. Meet with the employ­ee and dis­cuss the poten­tial rea­sons for poor per­for­mance at work. Is there some­thing about the work envi­ron­ment pre­vent­ing them from work­ing opti­mal­ly? Are they being tied up by red tape or inef­fec­tive work­place prac­tices? Is the tech­nol­o­gy clunky or out of date? Is the employ­ee being bul­lied or dis­crim­i­nat­ed against?

Poor per­for­mance may be a result of prob­lems at home, or it might sim­ply be a lack of abil­i­ty. When you’re man­ag­ing under­per­for­mance, you need to set a meet­ing and estab­lish an hon­est dia­logue so you can get to grips with what is caus­ing the issue.

Expert Tip:

Your employ­ee won’t want to open up if they feel you are judg­ing them or they fear for their job. Let them know they are safe to speak their minds and that you are there as a coach to get them back on track.

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Man­ag­ing Poor Per­for­mance Check­list Item #3: Pro­vide Feed­back as Soon as Possible

Many man­agers have a ten­den­cy to avoid con­flict. They want to keep up morale and ensure employ­ees are hap­py, so giv­ing neg­a­tive per­for­mance feed­back can seem coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. But the fact is that avoid­ance makes per­for­mance issues worse. Man­agers need to com­mit to reg­u­lar per­for­mance reviews, dur­ing which the par­ties involved can dis­cuss employ­ee per­for­mance, suc­cess­es, fail­ures and oppor­tu­ni­ties for train­ing. This is the core of what all per­for­mance man­age­ment is based on.

You should know that employ­ees want to hear your crit­i­cism. 94% of employ­ees want to hear cor­rec­tive” feed­back — feed­back that will help them improve how they work. As a result, it’s impor­tant to be hon­est and direct with what you say.

Uncer­tain­ty does not allow for pro­gres­sion or cor­rec­tive behav­iour. It sim­ply means employ­ees are aware of prob­lems but aren’t quite sure how to solve them. 50% of employ­ees are uncer­tain of their goals and much of this uncer­tain­ty is borne from indi­rect man­age­r­i­al feedback.

Employ­ee feed­back can’t — and shouldn’t — wait. Time­ly feed­back is cru­cial. Before poor per­for­mance becomes habit­u­al or wors­ens, sched­ule a one-on-one with the employ­ee in ques­tion. Define the pur­pose of the meet­ing and keep the tone non-judge­men­tal but seri­ous. When done soon after the fact, the infor­ma­tion will be fresh in everyone’s minds, leav­ing less room for debate or confusion. 

Once the per­for­mance issue is recog­nised and under­stood, you can begin to resolve it. Sug­ar­coat the truth about an employee’s per­for­mance and nobody is bet­ter off.

Expert Tip:

Deliv­er feed­back prompt­ly, but if you’re too wound up to deliv­er the news in a mea­sured man­ner, take the time you need to calm down. If you go into the dis­cus­sion in an emo­tion­al­ly charged state your­self, the employ­ee will be defen­sive and closed to your feedback.

Man­ag­ing Poor Per­for­mance Check­list Item #4: Offer Solu­tions and Sug­gest­ed Actions to Fight the Under­ly­ing Cause

Tak­ing your employ­ee aside, inform­ing them of their poor per­for­mance and shov­ing them out the door is not going to resolve per­for­mance prob­lems. This is not a tal­ent strat­e­gy that will ben­e­fit your company.

To get per­for­mance back on track, you must be pre­pared to offer help and support. 

Employ­ees have a cer­tain respon­si­bil­i­ty to man­age their per­for­mance. They are expect­ed to do the work they are paid for, as per their job descrip­tion, to a stan­dard wor­thy of their pay grade. How­ev­er, employ­ers also have a respon­si­bil­i­ty to pro­vide ade­quate sup­port. The more sup­port you are pre­pared to offer them, the bet­ter their chances of reach­ing and exceed­ing the stan­dards you expect and with­in a quick­er time frame. 

Expert Tip:

You might want to con­sid­er putting your employ­ee on a Per­for­mance Improve­ment Plan (PIP). This is a per­for­mance agree­ment in which man­ag­er and employ­ee define rea­son­able and prac­ti­cal steps to improve per­for­mance. This will involve com­mit­ment from the employ­ee as well as from the com­pa­ny — per­haps in the form of a train­ing course or stream­lined work­place processes.

Man­ag­ing Poor Per­for­mance Check­list Item #5: Use Per­for­mance Man­age­ment Software

You can’t track per­for­mance if you aren’t car­ry­ing out reg­u­lar per­for­mance reviews. And if you can’t track per­for­mance, you can’t iden­ti­fy prob­lems ear­ly enough to stop them from becom­ing major issues.

A per­for­mance man­age­ment sys­tem like Clear Review enables man­agers to mon­i­tor the progress of their team mem­bers through focused check-in dis­cus­sions. It also allows goals to be set and for feed­back to giv­en in real-time. By being aware of employ­ee per­for­mance on an ongo­ing basis, you can react quick­ly to prob­lems, instead of back­track­ing or miss­ing them entirely.

Expert Tip:

Per­for­mance man­age­ment soft­ware is for small busi­ness as well as large organ­i­sa­tions. In fact, such soft­ware can help SMEs thrive.

Man­ag­ing Poor Per­for­mance Check­list Item #6: Redi­rect Strong Per­for­mances to Sup­port Neg­a­tive Qualities

Keep­ing track of employ­ees through per­for­mance man­age­ment sys­tems is not only ben­e­fi­cial for pre­vent­ing per­for­mance prob­lems — it also enables you to track upward trends and focus on strengths. This means that rather than sim­ply dis­miss­ing an employ­ee as a poor per­former, you can redi­rect their strengths else­where. For exam­ple, a per­son may strug­gle with admin­is­tra­tive skills but have incred­i­bly strong com­mu­ni­ca­tion and influ­enc­ing skills that could ben­e­fit your business.

By hav­ing a wider per­spec­tive of both good and poor per­for­mance, man­agers can sup­port the recov­ery of under­per­for­mance by con­sid­er­ing how the indi­vid­ual can bet­ter lever­age their strengths.

This can work in two ways:

  1. If an employ­ee has a rel­e­vant skill that can be used to strength­en per­for­mance, the pos­i­tive pro­gres­sion in that skill can be redi­rect­ed to sup­port areas where they are under­per­form­ing. Let’s say they have strong writ­ten skills but their ver­bal com­mu­ni­ca­tion is not up to the stan­dard required. You can encour­age them to use their writ­ing to bet­ter pre­pare for face-to-face con­ver­sa­tions and meetings.
  2. Con­sid­er whether it is pos­si­ble to adjust the individual’s job descrip­tion or redis­trib­ute tasks with­in the team to enable them to spend more time work­ing on items that play to their strengths and less doing the things they are not so good at. By doing this, an under­per­form­ing employ­ee has the poten­tial to become one of the star per­form­ers in your team.

Expert Tip:

The war for tal­ent is rag­ing and unem­ploy­ment is at its low­est — if you believe an employ­ee has tal­ents that can be nur­tured with­in your organ­i­sa­tion, do all you can to devel­op and retain them. You’ll ben­e­fit in the long run.

Man­ag­ing Poor Per­for­mance Check­list Item #7: Dis­ci­pli­nary Action

The best part of per­for­mance man­age­ment is help­ing employ­ees thrive and devel­op while ben­e­fit­ing the busi­ness. The down­side is that some­times, under­per­for­mance can’t be turned around. When an employ­ee fails to work with their line man­ag­er to bring their per­for­mance back to an accept­able stan­dard, it might be nec­es­sary to issue writ­ten warn­ings and begin a for­mal dis­ci­pli­nary process that may, ulti­mate­ly, result in demo­tion or dis­missal. It’s not the best out­come, but, at times like this, com­pa­nies should look at the sil­ver lin­ing — if the employ­ee isn’t a good fit, you will have a vacan­cy that will hope­ful­ly be filled with a more suit­able and engaged employee.

Expert Tip:

To increase the odds of find­ing an ide­al employ­ee, recruit with your company’s core val­ues in mind. Your val­ues should impact every deci­sion made with­in your organ­i­sa­tion, so you want an employ­ee who is moti­vat­ed by those same values.

Find out how Clear Review can help improve employ­ee performance

Now you know how to man­age an under­per­form­ing employ­ee, you need the right soft­ware to help you mon­i­tor the per­for­mance of your team. Book a free demo to dis­cov­er how Clear Review’s per­for­mance man­age­ment sys­tem can help you keep track of how your staff are pro­gress­ing and quick­ly iden­ti­fy signs of underperformance.

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