Managing Poor Performance

Prevention is better than cure. Minimising the occurrence of poor performance is definitely the place to start when looking at this issue. Dealing with the consequences, both in resolving the problem with the employee and correcting issues they have caused within the business, will be much more costly for you in both time and money.

What are the impacts of poor performance?

  • Lethargy spreads from one person across the whole business
  • Productivity drops – individually and for the business
  • Customers start to feel the effects through poor customer services/ delivery etc.
  • The top talent in your business feel undervalued and leave
  • There is no ownership of company goals by anyone
  • Communication is poor and often results in other issues occurring, e.g. infighting
  • It becomes part of the culture of the business that less than good performance is acceptable
  • No one has any interest in development or progress for themselves or the business

How do I prevent poor performance?

Ensuring your business has a good performance management program in place will eradicate or indicate any poor performance before it has chance to manifest itself across your business. There can be negative connotations with this phrase ‘performance management’ and it shouldn’t be communicated to your workforce that every person in the company is on ‘performance management’. It should be seen as a positive method of improving and developing everyone at work – ‘performance appraisal’ (often alongside people’s annual review) is a term generally seen in a more positive manner.

Whatever its name, to work successfully as a program there must be clarity on:

  • Job roles and duties (see our job descriptions section for advice on this)
  • Individuals’ objectives/ targets in their roles
  • Timetabled review meetings/appraisals of these objectives/ targets
  • Grading of performance on each objective
  • Actions set from these meetings to assist in development and learning where needed

This type of program provides an understanding to all employees of the expected levels of standard and performance. It also provides the managers with a level of expectation and a management process that they have to adhere to. One reason poor performance can occur is that managers often feel uncomfortable with the confrontational and personal element of managing someone’s poor performance. This type of program gives the managers a course of action they must adhere to – hence they can distance themselves from the personal relationship they have with their team.

What constitutes poor performance?

Poor performance is generally unique to every organisation and, to a degree, every individual. Of course, there is common ground – being continually late for work could (and probably is) grounds for a poor performance review – but the key is judging every individual against what is expected of them in their own job as well as in line with the company’s values. This differs across different jobs and different companies.

To judge an employee on how well (or not) they are performing, it is imperative there is clarity on the standards expected of them throughout the time being reviewed.

A suggestion would be to use all of the following:

  • A formal job description outlining the specific duties of the role
  • Specific pre-set targets/ objectives that are expected of the individual in the role (these must be realistic and can be quantity or quality related – but must be hard and indisputable facts that can be measured not emotively judged)
  • Regularly accessible monitoring and results of these targets for the individual
  • Competency related performance can be set as well but this is harder to outline success or failure. Use of 3rd party evidence (an independent source) is normally needed, e.g. their peers’ comments on their communication or decision making for a particular piece of work.

What are the reasons for poor performance?

Very simply, it could be one or a combination of 3 things:

1.     lack of application or misconduct
2.     lack of the required skills or knowledge
3.     illness or disability.

The method you use to resolve the perceived poor performance will change dramatically depending on which of these 3 reasons are involved – hence the importance of understanding which of these 3 it actually is!

What to do in the case of poor performance?

The aim of the process when reviewing poor performance is to improve the levels of performance of the individual to an acceptable (or higher than acceptable) level – not to try to remove them from the business (as much you may sometimes want to).

Should you feel you have an issue that needs formally addressing (which does not lie solely under the illness or disability reasoning as you will need to address this in a very different way), there are 4 steps to follow and they must be adhered to without exception. Any non-compliance in your process will leave you wide open to the employee winning an unfair dismissal case in court if you end up parting ways – regardless of the standard of their work up to that point.

1.     Informal discussion when the poor performance becomes an issue for you.
a.     Discuss where the issues lie and offer help/ training/ support to assist them
b.     Ensure you ask them what the factors affecting them are – don’t make it a monologue!
c.     Note anything discussed – in case you need it in the future to prove help was offered/ given before formal proceedings started.

Should you feel the employee still hasn’t reached the required levels of performance after an agreed period of time after this meeting, you will have to start the ‘formal meeting’ process.

A letter must be sent to the employee prior to each meeting confirming the time and place as well as outlining the areas of poor performance to be reviewed in the meeting. You must also confirm the employee’s right to be accompanied by a witness and their right to appeal any outcomes made from these meetings. It is recommended you are accompanied by a minute taker so you can concentrate on the matters at hand, although neither accompanying individual should have input into these meetings other than witnessing events and taking notes if they wish.

2.     First Formal meeting.
a.     Outline the work duties of the individual
b.     Outline the issues at hand – reviewing performance, explaining concerns
c.     Understand and agree the areas of skills gap or causes of the issues – you can refer to the informal meeting had previously to reiterate the support that the individual has been offered/ given since. It should be made  clear that an improvement of their  performance is needed.
d.     Agree on the training and support that will be provided to solve the skills gap or causes of the poor performance – different gaps/ causes may have been mentioned in this meeting.
e.     Minute the meeting agreeing the timescales for improvement and date of next review.
f.      Write up a performance improvement plan (PIP) for the employee to use and refer to between this review and the next scheduled review.

3.     Second formal meeting.
a.     Very similar to the first formal meeting except emphasis is also placed on reviewing the performance since last meeting and assessing the employee’s improvements in following the PIP.
b.     Finish the meeting without confirming any formal outcome and spend time reviewing the minutes before making any decisions.
c.     Reconvene the meeting to inform the employee of your decision.
d.     If the employee isn’t dismissed, a PIP must be created for this individual again with agreed timescales leading to the next review.

It is very rarely appropriate to dismiss an employee after one formal meeting through poor performance alone. Outcomes will usually be formal verbal or written warnings (ensure the outcome is in the minutes of the meeting as well).

Most formal proceedings will require three formal meetings before a dismissal outcome is seen as an appropriate and fair outcome by the courts (should the employee follow this course of action)

4.     Third formal meeting
a.     This is a very similar meeting to the second meeting. Reviewing the PIP is again of key importance

Recognised outcomes at this stage can range from written warnings to transfers to demotion (or reduction of duties in the job) to dismissal.

Should the employee’s performance improve to the desired levels at any time during this process, you can terminate formal proceedings.

Whatever the situation, it is highly recommended that you obtain professional advice should you need to issue formal proceedings against any of your workforce. The areas around poor performance due to illness or disability needs special attention by you as an employer and specialist legal advice is definitely needed to ensure your business has done everything it can to assist this employee fully.

Overall, remember to deal with all the issues and individuals fairly, deal with all performance management evenly across the business and try to resolve the issues with measurable actions in realistic timescales before heading down a formal route.

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