Performance Manage People

by Paula Newton

Correcting poor performance

If someone is genuinely performing poorly, and you have avoided the pitfalls mentioned in Recognising poor performance, then you need to act, and act now. Delay will only make matters worse.

First, look back at the objectives that you set for the person:

  • Were they realistic?
  • Were they achievable?
  • Was the time frame reasonable, given the rest of their workload?
  • Have other priorities taken precedence?
  • Was the objective clear enough?

Second, consider the person:

  • Do they understand the objectives and know what they should be doing?
  • Do they know how to do the job?
  • Do they really have all the skills required?
  • Do they believe that they can do the job?
  • Do they believe it is possible to do the job in the recommended way?
  • Do they think they have a better (or only) way of doing the job?
  • Do they want to do the job?
  • What do they think they will get if they do the job?
  • What do they think they will get if they don’t do the job?
  • What do they think they will lose if they do the job?
  • Do they know why they should do the job?
  • Does the job bore them?
  • Does the job overstretch them and send them into panic?
  • Do they think that something else is more important?
  • What obstacles do they perceive as being in the way of doing the job?
  • Are they getting enough feedback?
  • Do they realise that they are underperforming?
  • Are they under stress from factors outside work?

Third, consider the environment:

  • Do they have the tools to do the job?
  • Do they have the resources they need?
  • Do the systems and processes allow them to do the job?
  • Do they have the assistance they need?
  • Are other tasks getting priority?
  • What other external things influence their performance?

Once you have considered the above questions, and any others you can think of, you need to realise that this is your point of view. The person who is not meeting the targets may not agree with your assessment. Put yourself in their shoes. Genuine empathy can take you a long way towards understanding what you might first have thought was simply poor performance.

As you consider the above questions, monitor how you feel. What are your emotions about the situation? Can you maintain a detached perspective? If not, you may need to seek assistance – addressing poor performance when you are angry or emotional about it will probably lead to conflict.

Talk to the person

All the above is preparation for a discussion with the person who is underperforming. And the first purpose of the discussion is to check how they view all the above questions, after which you can then discuss the differences to find out how they have arisen.

Give the person space to have a different point of view, and seek first to understand rather than be understood. Ensure that they are able to be open and honest with you, even if you get feedback that you don’t like about your own part in the situation.

Assist the person see the effects of their behaviour from other people’s perspectives, including your own and anyone else who is immediately affected. Encourage a fly-on-the-wall view as well. If the person were a detached observer, what would they see?

The reasons for the poor performance will become apparent, and then it is a matter of addressing them.

Action plan

There is no magic cure-all, as every case will be different, but the majority of cases can be turned around with the appropriate assistance.

For example, if you identify that the poor performance is due to lack of knowledge, this can be rectified by training. Training does not have to mean expensive external courses. There may be a company programme that would be suitable, or it might just be a simple case of the person working with another, more experienced member of staff, shadowing what they do for a while.

If the person does not have the right tools to perform their job effectively, work on furnishing them with those tools.

If the objectives were not clear to the person, you need to re-set them.

If the person is genuinely unaware that their performance is poor, and yet others think it is, you might consider a 360 degree process, which will ensure they get the broad-based feedback they need.

The kinds of skills and tools you, as a manager, will need to correct poor performance are covered in The toolkit you need.

Note that if whatever it is that is affecting performance is external to the work environment, you may recommend counselling. Some companies offer a limited number of counselling sessions to their employees as part of the benefits package. In other instances, your HR department may be able to provide details of counsellors who can help.

Whatever you decide to do, you need to create and agree a clear action plan with the person. This should include specific steps and checkpoints along the way to an agreed target. Make sure that any help or resources are identified and available. It is also a very good idea to document the plan and even get the person to sign a copy so it has an air of importance to them.

The action plan would also include features to mitigate the risk of a repeat of the poor performance, despite your best efforts. To this end, you need to consider what sort of monitoring needs to be in place, and also what contingency plans.