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Performance Management: How to Handle Underperformance

Incompetent employee thinking how to do his job online with messy desk at office.

What to do if you’ve got a lax, unmo­ti­vat­ed, or inef­fi­cient employee

Read our new Performance Management Trends for 2018 article

Under­per­for­mance can have a lot of unde­sir­able knock-on effects, includ­ing hours of wast­ed time, increased errors and low­er over­all morale. In fact, cer­tain stud­ies show that just one under­per­former in an oth­er­wise high-per­form­ing team can reduce over­all pro­duc­tiv­i­ty by as much as 40%. This is why it’s impor­tant for man­agers to be obser­vant and act imme­di­ate­ly once they notice an employ­ee is fail­ing to live up to expectations.

So how do you address the rather frus­trat­ing per­for­mance man­age­ment issue of under­per­for­mance? Below are some top tips that will help you get to the root cause of the prob­lem and get your employ­ee back on track and pro­duc­tive again.

Why do employ­ees underperform?

Employ­ees under­per­form for a num­ber of rea­sons, though not all of them will be entire­ly the employee’s fault. Before press­ing ahead, it is essen­tial that you pin­point and diag­nose the under­ly­ing rea­son for the poor per­for­mance. This will help you decide how to move for­ward. Com­mon rea­sons for under­per­for­mance are:

  • Lack of man­age­r­i­al support
  • Ill health or disability
  • Insuf­fi­cient training
  • Exces­sive workload/​employee burnout
  • Lack of a challenge
  • A lack of clar­i­ty in respect to SMART goals
  • Dis­trac­tions in the form of home life issues, or prob­lems with work process­es or organ­i­sa­tion­al changes
  • Inad­e­quate resources
  • Delib­er­ate poor performance

To get to the root cause, hold an infor­mal meeting

To get to the bot­tom of the employee’s poor per­for­mance, organ­ise an infor­mal, pri­vate meet­ing with your employ­ee. It has been shown that reg­u­lar one-on-one meet­ings are great for employ­ee engage­ment, so mak­ing the effort to con­nect and com­mu­ni­cate with your employ­ee will be appre­ci­at­ed. Make the meet­ing as relaxed and calm as pos­si­ble. This envi­ron­ment is much more con­ducive to hon­est, open dis­cus­sion. You don’t want your employ­ee to feel con­front­ed; this will cause your employ­ee to either get defen­sive or shut down.

Get pre­pared and, pri­or to the meet­ing, cre­ate a list of the areas where the employ­ee is under­per­form­ing. Be spe­cif­ic and be sure to get exam­ples. Being gen­er­al will weak­en your case. Remem­ber that the point of this meet­ing is to build a rap­port, to active­ly lis­ten and to find out how you can togeth­er turn this sit­u­a­tion around.

Explain why their under­per­for­mance has repercussions

Dur­ing this per­for­mance dis­cus­sion, explain how their under­per­for­mance is hav­ing an impact on the rest of the team and the busi­ness in gen­er­al. Explain that they are a crit­i­cal mem­ber of the team, which is why it is so impor­tant that they per­form their job to stan­dard. This will show that you still val­ue them, but it will also make it clear that things have to change.

Ques­tions to ask an underperformer

It might be that your employ­ee nev­er realised there was a prob­lem, or they are unwill­ing to be forth­right with you. If this is the case, there are cer­tain ques­tions you can ask to fur­ther the con­ver­sa­tion and get to the root of the problem:

  • Have there been any recent changes that have caused this sit­u­a­tion to arise?
  • Are there any fac­tors that are imped­ing your abil­i­ty to do your work?
  • How is life out­side of the office?
  • How are you get­ting along with your work colleagues?
  • Do you enjoy com­ing to work? Do you enjoy your cur­rent position?
  • Do you feel you’re being chal­lenged at work?
  • Do you feel your strengths and skills are being utilised?
  • How clear are you with your cur­rent SMART goals?
  • Are you get­ting enough feed­back with rela­tion to your work?

Spec­i­fy expec­ta­tions, tar­gets and spe­cif­ic actions to be taken

Employ­ees need to know what is required of them. Accord­ing to Gallup, only about half of employ­ees actu­al­ly know what is expect­ed of them at work. This is clear­ly a prob­lem, as with­out this knowl­edge, they are doomed to be an under­per­former forever.

Going for­ward, set tar­gets for improve­ment and spe­cif­ic actions that need to be tak­en in order to address the under­per­for­mance. Approach these actions much like SMART goals and set a clear time­frame, at which point you will review how things have pro­gressed. Fol­low this up with an email, con­firm­ing the main points of dis­cus­sion and rel­e­vant action points.

Fol­low up on your own com­mit­ments to help the employee’s behav­i­our

As we have already cov­ered, under­per­for­mance won’t always be sole­ly the employee’s fault. There may be cer­tain actions you, as the man­ag­er, can take to improve the sit­u­a­tion. If this is the case and you have agreed on action points for you to car­ry out, make sure you fol­low through. If you allow your actions to slip down­wards on your to-do list, your employ­ee will like­ly con­tin­ue to under­per­form — and you won’t have much jus­ti­fi­ca­tion to object.

Hold reg­u­lar per­for­mance discussions

If your organ­i­sa­tion has shift­ed to con­tin­u­ous per­for­mance man­age­ment, you will already be hold­ing reg­u­lar month­ly check-ins. Use this time to dis­cuss the employee’s per­for­mance, pro­vide feed­back (both pos­i­tive and con­struc­tive), and main­tain an hon­est dia­logue. These meet­ings can be sched­uled with the use of per­for­mance man­age­ment soft­ware, which can also help with the exchange of real-time feed­back. Keep on top of the sit­u­a­tion, and remem­ber that hold­ing off for a year­ly appraisal will only result in fur­ther problems.

What to do if things don’t improve

If under­per­for­mance con­tin­ues to be an issue, the prob­lem might be unre­solv­able. It might be that the employ­ee in ques­tion is sim­ply unable — or unwill­ing — to per­form the func­tion at hand. At which point, it will be nec­es­sary to take for­mal HR action. Whilst that is nev­er a com­fort­able route to take, we shouldn’t shy away from dif­fi­cult deci­sions where they are required. Although our employ­ees are the most impor­tant ele­ment of our busi­ness­es, the show must go on and your team and busi­ness must be able to move for­ward unimpeded.

Clear Review is a mod­ern per­for­mance man­age­ment soft­ware sys­tem. Book a per­son­al demo to boost your company’s effi­cien­cy, employ­ee com­mu­ni­ca­tion and performance.

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