How to Deal with Poor Performance

What is the hardest thing about being a manager? Before entering management, I bet you thought it was workload and responsibility related. Now, I bet you would rank people management pretty high. Opportunities to handle tricky situations with employees and fellow managers are offered in abundance when you work in supervisory positions and particularly with the employees you are in charge of, poor performance is a typical one.

Assuming that you are dealing with someone who you have not had to flag up for poor performance, here are the stages of good practice that you should undergo to fairly deal with poor performance.

Stage 1: Having that conversation

I once watched my boss fire some and yet manage to ensure that the guy who he was firing, who had a wife and small child to support, left smiling. I learnt that negative situations can always be worded in a way that inspires instead of demoralises. Instead of saying ‘Your performance has been poor, you haven’t responded to our training and support so you are fired’ he said “I think that this team and job isn’t right for you but, I am confident that with your skills and experience, you will not struggle to find a team that you gel with. Thank you for all your hard work while you have been with us and please let me know if there is anything I can do to help you in your job search.”

The point here is that, if someone is not performing well, you do not have to communicate it to them in a harsh tone or negative way. You could start off by telling them which areas they are really strong in and then state the areas you feel they are struggling in. Using softer words like ‘struggling’, is less intimidating and is therefore less likely to create a panicked response.

Stage 2: Active learning

People are generally more likely to succeed when they form part of a solution. So, whilst having the conversation mentioned above, a good way to empower the employee whose performance is poor is by asking him/her why they think that is the case. It encourages them to be reflective practitioners rather than be resigned to being bad at their job and hopefully, it will be a practice they maintain. You can use this to inform some of the targets and strategies you set for improvement and since he/she has been part of their formation, the employee is more likely to strive to achieve.

Taking ownership and responsibility for mistakes is starting the journey for improvement so ensuring the employee learns by ‘doing’ – active learning – they are more likely to remember lessons learnt and, take the initiative to form their own success goals.

Stage 3: Supporting

Many companies have a policy that offers poor performers some sort of ‘Performance Improvement Plan’. The format of these vary but, no matter what sort of ‘next step’ your company has in place, supporting the member of staff under the spotlight no matter what you think the reason for their poor performance may be. Regarding the latter part of that statement, you may for example, think that he/she is just lazy. But it is worth considering that ‘laziness’ is often a mask for a lack of confidence or low morale; just as success breeds success, failure too can be the result of a self fulfilling prophecy.

When looking at ways to converting poor performance into success, it is crucial to provide focused targets and ongoing support. This can significantly boost confidence and morale as your employee will feel like you are rooting for them rather than waiting for them to fail. This can be aided with reviewing the progress regularly and using it as a tool to combine praise at any improvements – no matter how small – with constructive criticism.

Stage 4: Formal review

Once you have allowed for sufficient time in which you would expect a significant improvement, you should arrange a performance review meeting.If you have been supporting the member of staff through their period of improvement then they should not be nervous of this meeting and actually, it should have a positive outcome.

No matter how much you support an employee and no matter how hard they try to improve however, sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way.

There are many schools of though on best ways to deal with poor performance but, one thing remains the same – tailor your approach according to the situation, person and company policy.

About the Author:

Hollie Miller provides Management and Development Training for Acuity Training. In her spare time she loves to go to the gym and dress making.