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How to handle poor performance

At some point in your employment life, you're going to have to deal with an under performing employee. It's usually uncomfortable and not very fun, but done correctly, it can be stress free and lead to great results.

Informal first

At the first sign of under performance, we want to be jumping straight on it. There's no benefit in waiting to see if the employee improves, if you haven't told them improvement is needed! So first things first, we have an informal 121. Bring the employee in and ask, "is everything ok? Is there anything you want to make me aware of that's bothering you because I've noticed a drop in your performance and I want to help you."

Whilst you need to identify where they are going wrong, don't stay there. Focus on how they can improve and identify any learning needs. Remember that employees often don't know what they don't know so they'll probably tell you "yeah I can do that" but you might need to work more closely with them for a short while to make sure. Employees also don't know what support you can or are willing to offer. So don't say "what can I do to help you?", suggest some ideas! "Would some extra training help?" Sometimes, you know exactly what the problem is, and so does the employee, but they need reassurance to take the next step.

This is also your opportunity to determine whether this is a behavioural issue or a capability issue. Is the employee demotivated and therefore not trying, and if so, what would motivate them? Or is the employee trying really hard but struggling with aspects of the job?

If the issues are relating to something outside of your control such as home or health issues, speak to your HR support as to the best way to move forward because you might need a slightly different approach.

Opportunity to improve

NOW you can give them time to improve. Agree a timeframe in your informal 121 where you're going to get together again to review progress. There's no rule as to how long you should give them, it just has to be reasonable. For example if the improvement required is a 12 week training course, it would be unreasonable to review until they have at least started the course, but you can't expect actual improvement until the course is complete. If the you and the employee hold up your ends of the bargain, you should see some improvement. If there has been no improvement...carry on reading!

Formal Performance Management

If the agreed timeframe has passed and there has been little to no improvement, you might need to escalate the process to a formal performance management procedure. This typically involves HR supporting you at a formal meeting where you agree performance goals, a review date and relevant support for the individual before issuing them with a warning. If the performance improves to the required standard, no further action is necessary and the warning will eventually expire. However, if the poor performance continues, you repeat the formal process until you reach the point of considering dismissal for incapability. But along the way, you can consider other options such as reducing working hours if health is a factor, redeploying the employee into a different role if their current role has developed to exceed the scope of their ability.

If you are unsure of what to do at any point during a performance management process, speak to a qualified HR Consultant or your internal HR.


If you are struggling with managing your team's performance, we'd love to help you. Get in touch to book a consult call and let's save you a whole lot of drama!

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