Reality Check on The Poor Performance

Article by Dr. Pratik P. SURANA

Chief Mentor and Founder

Quantum Group

Performance management makes up a significant part of every manager’s job description, and this means managers are required to deal with poor performance. Managers often view this as one of the less desirable responsibilities that come with their job because too often our perception of managing poor performance is clouded by thoughts of tense, uncomfortable situations that may result in finger pointing, anger and denial.

The impact of poor performance is widespread and affects the whole team including the manager and the wider organisation. Great managers master the essential management skill of dealing with under performance The key is to be consistent and using the following process will help avoid the anxiety associated with dealing with under performance for both manager and employee.

Check that Poor Performance Exists

It is vital to be certain that genuine poor performance actually exists and to be sure where the real issue lies. True under performance occurs when someone has not achieved agreed outcomes. Clarify the issue, whether the outcomes were never defined; or were defined badly, making it impossible to determine whether the outcomes were met; or if there really is an under performance problem.

The first management step is to determine whether a problem exists and identify the real issue.

Define the Desired Performance Results

Once the issue has been identified, collect all the facts and information available, including the impacts of the under performance Explaining why an outcome is important can be helpful during the performance meeting.

Managers must work out what results are required, both in terms of outcomes for the future and more immediate improvements to be made. These results must be realistic and achievable by the employee.

Conduct the Poor Performance Meeting

It is important to remove opinions and emotions from any poor performance discussions, present facts and be respectful towards the employee at all times. This is not a personal attack it is a problem to be solved and actions to be taken must be agreed upon.

Give the employee time to prepare for the meeting. Explain the situation from a management point of view and invite comments and questions.

Ensure that both the manager and the employee agree there is an issue. Work with the employee to define an action plan. Actions to rectify the situation must be specific and are best defined by the employee not the manager as this helps ensure ownership.

Managers must keep an open mind and be flexible:

•    The employee may not realise there is a problem and only needs expectations to be made clear

•    The employee may know there is a problem but genuinely have no idea how to resolve it and may need some help

•    The employee may come up with a surprising or unusual action plan and managers should be wary of dismissing such ideas without consideration

Agree a date for a follow-up meeting, what outcomes must be achieved by then and how the employee can ask for extra support if required.

Follow up and Review Performance Results

The final step in managing under performance is to follow up on agreed upon actions, monitor the situation and review results.

If performance is not improving, then follow these steps again and conduct another meeting. Do not wait until the scheduled meeting date.

Reinforce all performance improvements immediately. The size or scope of improvement is less important than the general direction.

Ensure the agreed upon follow-up meeting takes place as scheduled.

Learning how to deal with under performance is an essential management skill which, once mastered, will lead to improved performance for the whole team, including the manager.

If you believe that you have to put yourself and your employee through an awkward and stressful event to effectively confront poor performance, you should tear down that perception of the process and re imagine it. The simple fact is that managing poor employee performance should not be a huge event; it should be quick and relatively pain free, for both the manager and the employee, and something that’s done incrementally at the first sign of a deviation in ‘expected’ behaviour. When poor performance goes unaddressed for long periods of time, as too often it does, it can become a major problem and manifest itself into a situation that can blow out of control.

Importantly, managers must understand that poor performance that is not addressed quickly is in reality seen by the employee as being condoned. This is because people respect what you ‘inspect’, not what you expect! Consequently your people pay attention to what you pay attention to.

A simple guideline for managing poor performance with your staff can be summarised in three basic steps:

1.   Identify what behaviour is causing the employee to under perform

2.   Confront the poor performance

3.   Redirect behaviour to improve performance

Identify why the employee is under performing

At the first sign of behaviour deviation, managers too often ask themselves, “What’s wrong with that person?” But as soon as we do that, we have a tendency to personally indict the employee. So regardless of personal likes or dislikes, managers must work on being objective, focus on the behaviour (not the personality) and ask, “Why are they not performing as they should?”

In particular a manager must determine if there is some form of task interference or consequence imbalance occurring.

Task interference refers to anything that prevents the employee from performing their job to an expected standard. This can be something as basic as a new procedure or system that has caused the employee to be less productive, or it can be something that the employee doesn’thave, like proper resources, tools, skills or training.

Employees experience consequence imbalance when there’s a mismatch between their actions and the consequences of those actions, such as a manager failing to follow up when they said they would. Often times managers may see that a team is performing well, but if they haven’t made time to personally observe who are and aren’t the real drivers of team performance, they praise everyone. To the poor performers, this reinforces their ineffective behaviour and for the top performers it can cause them to question why they should work harder and produce more, only to have their deserved recognition given to others.

Confront poor performance

There are six rules you should observe when confronting a poor performing employee:

1.   Never confront in anger: do not let this become an emotional situation. Whatever you need to do to get your emotions in check before confronting, whether its walking around the block, counting to ten or having a glass of water, do it.

2.   Do it immediately: take however long you need to get your emotions together, but as soon as you’ve done that, confront the poor performing employee without delay.

Failure to confront immediately is what causes so much angst around the idea of confronting poor performance. When you let inappropriate actions continue unaddressed for too long before confronting them, the situation can get out of control. When managers consistently confront immediately, at the first sign of behaviour deviation, the process of managing poor performance will be painless – and potentially even gratifying!

3.   Do it in private: this doesn’t mean going to your office and shutting the door, just don’t do it within earshot of other staff. You don’t need to turn it into a big event! In fact, confronting poor performance can be done quite casually, for example, at the water cooler or while getting a coffee or even walking down the corridor. Many times, taking the employee into your office and closing the door can create a tense atmosphere – the same tension that has given such a stigma to the process of managing poor performance – before saying a word.

4.   Be Specific : Use evidence and factual information to state your case and focus on behaviour. When you bring hearsay or impressions into the conversation, you can find yourself squabbling over details, no matter how big or small.

5.   Use data: Just as you should be specific with factual information, support your assertions with data whenever possible. In the process of confronting, tell them what they have done, how you feel about their actions and why you feel that way.

6.   Be clear: do not confuse people by watering down the fact that this is a reprimand. Because they feel uncomfortable, managers will often end a confrontation with something like, “But overall, you’ve been doing a really great job.” The problem is people choose to hear what they want to hear, so employees latch onto such comments and leave the meeting thinking they just got praised. So don’t confront and praise in the same interaction.

Redirect behaviour to improve performance

After confronting a poorly performing employee with ‘what, how and why’, at the same time you must also begin the process of redirecting their behaviour towards what is expected of them.

Firstly, get their opinion of your assessment of the behaviour issue. What perspective do they have of their performance/behaviour? Then ask them to propose a solution; what would they suggest be done to address the problem? Don’t simply mandate a solution for them, get them to take ownership of it. This is to ensure that not only have they bought into the fact that they’ve been performing poorly, but also because they so often will know themselves, better than anyone else, what an appropriate solution will be….perhaps better than what you might have in mind!

Once you’ve agreed on the solution and the interaction is over, observe the employee’s behaviour over a period of time. In other words, make sure you follow up. If the solution doesn’t adequately address the situation, that’s okay, because you’ve addressed it early on. In fact, it can become a learning process for the employee as they figure out how to get where they need to be. As long as they’re taking incremental steps in the right direction, learning each time, you’ll be in good shape.

As you observe the employee making changes and improvements to their behaviour, positively reinforce their actions by telling them what you’ve seen them do differently, howthat makes you feel and why you feel that way. The clarity of your communication will ensure they understand the impact of their improved performance to themselves, the team and the organisation.

Managing poor performance is not a big deal

Setting aside all of these techniques for managing poor performance, if there’s one thing you should remember about how to manage poor performing employees, it’s that it should not be the big deal that we so often make of it. If you address inappropriate behaviour when it first appears, you will start viewing it not as a burden but as an opportunity to coach, develop and grow.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *