How to manage poor performance in the workplace

How to manage poor performance in the workplace


Few organisations would dispute that their workforce is their greatest asset, but what is done when things are not running smoothly? Managers constantly face this challenging question: how should I manage poor performance? Approaches are likely to vary depending on the nature of the organisation, its size, resources and culture. However, below are 5 points which are intended to provide assistance on how to manage poor performance in the workplace, regardless of the factors referred to above:


1.Find out what the nature of the problem is (it may not be poor performance at all)


Essentially, if the person can’t do something, such as demonstrate the necessary skills or attributes required to properly perform the role, and is therefore underperforming, that situation would be dealt with by what’s called capability. On the other hand, if the individual knew what was required, could do it, and chose not to (won’t do it) that is more likely to be dealt with via the  disciplinary procedure. It is important to consider which applies, as they both require different action going forward (the other points below are based on the can’t or poor performance scenario).


2. Follow the procedure that is in place at your organisation


How is poor performance currently dealt with in your organisation? Is there a policy or procedure in place, or is it all down to the discretion of the person in charge? If there is a procedure in place it should be followed, so that everyone knows where they stand and what the next steps will be.

Robust written procedures, which are commonly known and understood, ensure that those who are underperforming are treated fairly, consistently and that any decision making is transparent. Such documentation is useful to both managers, and the individual concerned, as they set out what should be done when and by whom, and provide all concerned with confidence in the process.

A central question to consider, when trying to tackle poor performance, is what has been done up to this point? For example, has a procedure been followed? If so, what stage has been reached? Sometimes a situation can be left to drift, perhaps because of a hope that it will right itself naturally, a lack of time which prevents the poor performance from being tackled, or because of simply not knowing what to do next. If it is a lack of knowledge, training and consultancy support is likely to be a wise investment when considering the cost of the poor performance, and how the mishandling of such a situation could result in an unfair dismissal claim.

These reasons for delay, referred to above, are entirely understandable: managing poor performance can be daunting. Managers often have a substantial amount to juggle, and perhaps poor performance is overtaken by more immediate or urgent issues. That said, it is important to know how far along in the process the individual has gone. For example, has there just been an informal chat and nothing more? Was there inactivity in relation to the process? If so, was this due to improvement being achieved, or just because the matter was not progressed in the way it should have been?

3. Consider how performance is measured and how targets are communicated

Is performance measured as a team or an individual basis? How was it decided who would do what? Were targets set in advance or has the underperformance become clear at a later stage? Does the person know what is needed from them to get things back on track?

Understandably, organisations often differ in what they choose to measure and the goals they set.  There are three broad approaches which can illustrate an organisation’s approach to performance management. It is deliberately simplistic so as to illustrate the point.

  1. There is a complex, elaborate system that tracks all sorts of things from beginning to end, and targets are set at each and every stage. Such systems have often taken considerable time and expense to devise and are therefore largely set in stone. In such a scenario the individual has limited or no discretion over what or how things are done. Individuals are also likely to be made aware of their stats on a regular basis, and therefore there is no doubt about what is expected from them.
  1. Organisations may choose to set key targets such as sales, billable hours etc. but not concern itself with the other elements which would be considered above. In this situation, the individual is likely to have far more control over how things are done, and to be judged on the end result.
  1. No formal targets are set. Instead, staff are just told, from day to day, when they have done a good or a bad job. As there are no formal targets set, performance is likely to be assessed on an adhoc basis, with performance being judged by a particular manager.

Whilst an organisation would fall into one of the three approaches referred to above, these classifications are simplistic, and it is best to see it as a spectrum and consider where the organisation sits within it.

Is it possible to establish the extent to which the individual is falling short of what is required, and the extent to which the individual is aware of the expected level of performance? The answers to these questions are likely to inform next steps.

4. Keep an open mind as some reasons for underperformance may not be obvious


There may be reasons for underperformance, which are not due to the person’s abilities, and which would remain hidden without having a conversation, e.g. personal circumstances, difficulties at work such as bullying, or is ill health or disability a factor?  There are numerous possibilities, but what is important is to find out what the reason is so that action can be taken to improve the situation. Such conversations can be challenging, and training may be useful to tackle this sensitive topic.

5. Consider what help has been offered to get the person back on track

This point is often missed because an employer may have become frustrated and simply feels that the person is not up to the job and enough is enough. However, if the person is dismissed for that reason (capability) it will be important for the employer to be able to show that support was provided to the person in question to help them get where they needed to be, otherwise the person could claim that the dismissal was unfair at an Employment Tribunal.

Plotkin & Chandler can assist with all aspects of HR and Employment Law, whether you would like assistance with, or training on performance management, training on how to have those challenging conversations, or you are facing an Employment Tribunal claim, we would be delighted to hear from you and to discuss the ways in which we can help. Please

contact us on 020 3923 8616 or email us on info@plotkinandchandler.com





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