How to Handle a Poor Performer

Friday, August 23, 2013 - 07:55

By Leon Gettler

It’s a fact. Some employees don’t measure up and are chronic under achievers. The manager’s job is to deal with it. And they have to deal with it carefully.

The problem is a lot of managers don’t do it that well. According to research institute Roffey Park, 40 per cent of managers think their employer is no good at tackling underperformance. Most managers in the study admitted they didn’t have the personal skills, the authority or the knowledge to deal with the issue.

According to the Fair Work Ombudsman, there might be all sorts of reasons why people are underperforming. The employee mightn’t be clear about what’s expected of them, there might be a mismatch between their abilities and the job they’re required to do, morale might be low or there might even be cultural misunderstandings. Managers are advised to resolve the issues quickly and make sure they have good enough systems for feedback. “Remember that for performance management to be successful, the culture of the business should be one which encourages ongoing feedback and discussion about performance issues in open and supportive environments.”

Brad Karsh, the president at JB Training Solutions, says the first thing managers need to do is get to the root of the problem. That means talking to the underperformer and working out why it’s happening.

“Reiterate that you are on their side and that feedback is part of the growth and development of every employee,’’ Karsh says. “Let them know that if they commit to being better, you’ll commit to helping them meet their goals. By showing you believe in them, you’ll boost their confidence to succeed on the job.”

At the same time, he says, it’s important to document everything. If there’s no pick up in performance, the manager will have to make some hard decisions. He says he tends to give people six, seven or even eight chances to improve. But if that doesn’t happen, he says, they have to go and in the end there’s no choice – keeping underperformers on only hurts the whole team.

Psychologist Eve Ash says managers need to first of all clarify what the expectations are around the job and how that fits in with the person’s career plan. They also have to agree on what the key performance indicators are. They have to give feedback regularly, recognising strengths and identifying weaknesses. If that’s not done, they risk losing the respect of everyone in the team. It’s also important for the manager to create a development plan with each individual. For the poor performer, they should be very specific on what needs to be done and improved and by when. They also have to agree on how this will be monitored. It may be that a re-alignment to a different role is needed. All gaps need to be documented and if there’s no improvement, the manager needs to know the agreed number of warnings for the organisation before they start a process of asking the person to leave. Otherwise, you could be looking at an unfair dismissal case.