How to Deal with Poor Performance

Performance ManagementDealing with poor performance can be one of the most overwhelming tasks a manager has to  undertake. This is particularly true if you have only recently become a manager, since giving feedback to those previously at the same level as you requires extra conviction.

This article gives some basic advice for managers on how to plan, carry out and follow through with meetings concerning a member of staff’s performance.

If you like this you might also find our Top 10 Tips for Motivating your Team useful


It is essential that you are completely prepared before you confront an employee about their performance. There are a number of ways in which to prepare, starting with:

1 – Defining the problem

This first stage is important for setting your own mind straight on the issues with your employee. You will want to set down a definition for:

  • The problems you are having with the employee – be specific! If you realise at this stage that the issues are not great enough to warrant action, be truthful about this to yourself and drop the matter.
  • How the employee should be behaving and performing.
  • How much of a difference there is between the employee’s current performance and the performance you expect of them.
  • Where your assessment of the employee’s behaviour has come from. If this is the result of information from other employees, could the other employee(s) be biased? Have you got any physical evidence to back up your claims?

2 – Considering reasons for your employee’s behaviour

There are a number of reasons why your employee’s work may not have been satisfactory. For example, if a task has not been made entirely clear to them, they may well be working to the best of their capacity, but not in the right direction.

A meeting and discussion with the employee will make some of these issues clear to you, but identifying possible concerns for the employee beforehand will make the in-meeting discussion run far more smoothly.

3 – Identifying times when the employee’s behaviour has been acceptable

Identifying times when the employee has been working and behaving as you would hope and expect can help you to explain to the employee exactly what you want from them.

Additionally, comparing an employee’s previous performance to their current one will benefit you in your definition of the problem.

Finally, the ability to show the employee that they can do well will add positivity to the meeting, and will help maintain a good relation with your employee – you don’t want them to see you as one who completely disapproves of their work.

4 – Decide whether the employee will have realised their performance was low

As mentioned before, the employee’s tasks may not have been made clear to them. If this is the case, they may not have realised that their performance was less than expected.

Take some time to decide whether this is the case. If the employee’s work performance is under question, think about whether expectations were made clear to them, if feedback was given regularly and unambiguously and if instructions and plans have been made explicit to them.

If however the problems are with attitude, consider whether the policy guidelines on dress codes, sick leave, and so on. It might even be that the employee has not realised that they are being rude to other employees, due to a lack of sensitivity.

Taking the time to consider these issues will prepare you for the employee’s reaction should they not have realised they were acting inappropriately.

5 – Take Advice

Before seeking a meeting with your employee, it is essential to speak to your own manager – especially if you are new to managing. Your manager may have had some useful experience with the same kind of issue, which they can pass the lessons of on to you.

Your manager may also be in a position to help you decide whether disciplinary action is necessary. Even if you are convinced about your course of action, meeting your manager is excessively important in case the member of staff concerned takes issue with you, or the case has to be referred to at a later date.

The Discussion

The discussion should take the member of staff through the questions you have been asking yourself earlier.

1 – Ask the staff member for their explanation

Asking the staff member for their explanations has several benefits. It shows the staff member that you are not necessarily against them, and gives you the opportunity to learn more about where things have gone wrong.

To get the best results from questioning your staff member, make sure that your questions are open – this way you will be able to fully explore the way the employee feels and how they approached problems.

When using such questions as “How do you feel the project went?” you will encourage employees to take responsibility for their actions in the project, and encourage their willingness to solve problems which arose from it.

2 – Give Feedback

Feedback should only be given once the staff member has had their chance to explain what went wrong. It should also be backed up with solid fact and specific examples. Feedback relating to the employee’s character or attitude is not going to receive a good response!

3 – Create an Action Plan

Once issues in the employee’s behaviour have been identified and agreed upon, an action plan must be created in a similar manner.

This should not be a case of you issuing instructions to the staff member – this would not be constructive as it wouldn’t take their issues into account, and would create resentment in the employee against the plan.

In order to persuade the employee to take up the plan, you need to ask them what they want to do about their performance. Start by being vague and asking questions such as “how do you think we can address this problem”. This will, again, bring the employee to a sense of responsibility.

Following on from this, ask your employee to be as specific as possible when defining how they are going to improve their work. Offer your support, but make sure you ask them how you can give them the right support. You must also ensure that the solution they arrive at is acceptable to you and the company.

Once you have reached an agreement on exactly what the employee intends to do to improve their work, and how they are going to do it, you should explain to them how you will be assessing their improvements. This is entirely down to you, and to the nature of the necessary improvements – if they need time, give them time.

Following Through

You can’t simply leave your agreements with the staff member floating in the air – it is essential to follow them up at agreed times. Make sure you document what is discussed in the original meeting, and ensure that any dates agreed to for additional meetings or reassessments of the employee’s work are kept to.

After the original meeting, your task should be to monitor progress, giving praise or censure where necessary.

Similar Posts:


, , , , , , , ,
Andy Trainer

Connect with Andy on Google Profile.

View all posts by Andy Trainer

One Comment

W. Hardaway says:

I often like to use an analogy that is familiar to me when discussing this topic. In my background we talk a lot about assessment tools (tests).

There are two things that should be looked at when students largely under-perform on an exam; one is the students and how they prepared, but the other which is not done often enough is whether or not the instrument (test) was reliable and valid. For definitions on reliability and validity look them up.

Very few test even standard ones are taken through the litmus test of reliability and validity. I think the same goes for poor performance in general. Where is our litmus test in employment or sports or other non-academic settings? What is the best way to judge whether scientifically or statistically if it is the employee or employer that is responsible for poor performance.

I don’t know if there will be a real measure. One easy way is to have open discussions abut how things can be improved because it can be very revealing and whatever solutions are adopted the employees will be vested in.

Leave a Comment