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How Should You Manage Poor Employee Performance?

Employee engagement, performance and productivity will always be pressing HR concerns. As managers, we are constantly striving to get the best out of our workforce, to inspire them to improve and to provide them with all the necessary elements to perform well. However, what happens when you notice an employee who constantly fails to deliver?

Underperformance is something HR managers and line managers should address as soon as possible. Managing poor performance is the first step to improving overall company success, but failure to take control of the situation can cost the company dearly in terms of lost productivity. So how should we handle underperformance, how can we inspire the employee to improve and what steps should we take if the employee shows no signs of improving?

Determine what is causing the underperformance

There are a number of reasons why an employee might be underperforming. Sometimes, the employee is to blame, but on occasion, their poor performance may be due to external factors or company processes. The first step to turning around underperformance is to pinpoint what is causing the issue in the first place. For this to happen, line manager and employee need to have an informal, honest performance discussion.

It may be that the employee in question is underperforming as they haven’t been given sufficient training to carry out their role. It may be that they don’t feel they are receiving enough support, or that they have been given unreasonable objectives or workloads. There might be issues at home, or the employee might be feeling uninspired due to a lack of a challenge. Keep this exchange neutral. If the employee feels they are being attacked, they might go on the defensive and you’re unlikely to have a productive conversation.

Demonstrate that you are there for the employee

Make it clear to your employee that you want to resolve the situation. You want their performance to improve and you are willing to provide any support necessary. Your employee should feel that they have an ally, rather than an authoritative manager who is threatening to track and judge their every move. Remember how important the role of a manager is to the engagement levels of an employee.

In order to build a trusting relationship with your employee, regular performance discussions are beneficial. A lot of companies are transitioning to continuous performance management for this reason. Monthly check-ins provide an opportunity to discuss concerns, issues, progress and goals. This more frequent contact also helps manager and employee to develop a more frank, open dialogue.

Hold an informal meeting and draw up an action plan

Once you are aware of the underlying problems that are causing underperformance, you will be able to go about resolving the issue. Hold an informal meeting with the employee, but take diligent notes and draw up a reasonable, detailed action plan. Make notes of what measures the employee will take to improve their performance and make note of what you, as the manager, will have to do.

Ensure the action plan has a deadline and send the plan to all parties involved. With any luck, the underperformance will begin to disappear. If not, the document can be used to demonstrate the efforts put in place to support and assist the employee, should you be forced to let them go.

Make sure the employee is clear on how and why they need to improve

The employee cannot be left in any doubt about the actions they need to take to improve their productivity. Equally, the employee should be made aware of the consequences, should he or she continue to underperform. If, down the line, you need to let them go, you don’t want them to be taken by surprise. This is a common mistake made when dismissing staff and it might get your company in trouble.

Explain how important the employee is to the company and how their role feeds into overall company objectives. Explain how the company suffers when individual performance declines. This will show the employee that they are a valued and respected part of the business — and it might give them incentive to put in the extra effort.

Ensure everyone holds up their end of the bargain

It’s not all about the employee. Managers need to keep abreast of the underperformance at all times. Schedule frequent meetings to track progress and offer support where you can. If you have agreed to make changes to certain processes, you need to take action. If you offered extra training, make sure you provide it. Simultaneously, check in with your employee to ensure they are fulfilling their tasks and objectives as agreed.

How to proceed if nothing improves

If you have carried out all the steps above and are still met with apathy or a complete inability to perform the role to standard, you might have to sever ties with the employee. At this point, you will have to take formal HR action. Nobody likes dismissing employees, but at times, we have to make difficult decisions for the benefit of our company. Saying goodbye to this employee is the first step to finding a more suitable employee, with relevant skills and strengths, who will be able to adequately perform the functions of the role.

About the Author: Marc Bishop is an HR professional and Managing Director of PlusHR Limited, a leading UK HR consultancy that delivers HR management and administration services to companies of all sizes.