Sooner or later any manager will realise they have an under-performing employee in the team. It's inevitable. Not everyone can do the job they’re in – maybe their life outside work changes, or they were a recruitment mistake, or the demands of the job become too much for their abilities. Or they simply need more knowledge or information or understanding.
It’s said that in jazz bands, the band is only as good as the worst player; no matter how great some members may be, everyone hears the worst player. The same goes for a company. When you permit weak links to exist without consequence, they drag everyone else down, especially your top performers. If you turn a blind eye and hope the person will go away, things will only get a whole lot worse. Here’s how to tackle it:
As soon as any actual or potential problem in the way an individual is working becomes apparent, deal with it promptly - don’t wait until the next performance review or the end of probation.
Identify what isn’t working
Be clear about the parts of the job the employee isn’t performing well enough. What sort of things are happening – or not happening? Gather clear examples and facts.
Talk to the employee informally
Arrange one-to-one time with the under-performing employee. State the issue, give specific examples and clarify what changes are required.
Listen, express concern, ask about external factors, their own views about their performance, and what they think the expectations of them are. Ask them about training and skill sets.
Agree with the employee on specific action to improve. Be clear about the timescale you require the performance to improve within: 2 or 3 months is reasonable depending on the level of job. Write down the action plan or objectives and give the employee a copy.
Be kind. The majority of people want to do well at work and it can be a nightmare experience for them if for some reason their performance isn’t up to scratch. Genuinely wish them well and hope that they succeed.
Training and coaching
There’s an obligation on all employers to give their employees reasonable support, guidance and training in performing their job. When you’re managing underperformance, the more structured and documented this is the better. One day you might have to prove that it happened!
As the action plan is followed up, give the employee the support they might need. Meet regularly after the initial discussion and provide feedback about their progress. Stick to your agreed timescale unless there are exceptional circumstances.
The next stage
In most cases this informal approach is enough to bring about the necessary improvement. If it doesn’t you will need to progress to something more formal using your company’s disciplinary procedure.
Ultimately, if each stage in the procedure is followed correctly and the employee fails to improve to the required standard in the timescale you’ve set, this means you can fairly dismiss. An advantage in the short term is that the employee realises it’s serious, focuses more and tries harder to improve.
Effect on the team
If you fail to address poor performance, your team will probably become less than enchanted with you as their manager, even when the impact isn’t extreme. One of the most frustrating experiences for a team is when they feel they’re carrying someone who isn’t pulling their weight, and frustration can turn to stress when the manager simply does nothing about it.
It’s important to keep whatever you’re doing confidential. Your team might not know when poor performance is being tackled. But they certainly do know if it is not being addressed at all.
If you manage poor performance well and manage to raise performance, then this not only instills a sense of achievement for the employee in question, it also gives a great message out to other staff that you are fair and tuned in to what is happening.