Poor Performance
Managing Your Problem Employees

I want performance!Poor performance in an employee can be a problem. Here’s how to manage them so you don’t spend all your time on it.

You know when you have a poor performer in your team:

  • They do not get the results you expect from them.
  • They make more mistakes than others in your team.
  • You find yourself spending more time handling them than your other employees.
  • If you turn your back on them for too long, “the wheels fall off”.

Be Sure You Are Measuring Their Results Correctly

Don’t go on gut feel with this. Be sure you have a valid set of measures that show clearly what the performance of the employee is. The poor performance must be evident in the statistics.

You may have your own ideas of what you expect in the way of results. And, in many cases, the non-performance will be obvious. The points above are a clear indicator of something being very wrong.

It still remains, however, that you need to approach this situation from a firm footing. Don’t jump in before you are sure that you have actually set the job up for them so it is do-able and measurable.

See Performance Measurement for the basics on setting up a valid measurement system.

When you are confident that the job and its associated end results and statistics have been set up correctly, go to the next step.

Review the Performance

Do a performance review. (See Performance Reviews for details on how to do this). The poor performance needs to be addressed as soon as it is obvious. Don’t wait too long. You will waste more time with ineffective “handling’ if you don’t do a review.

In a performance review, you have a formal environment where the situation can be addressed correctly. Make sure you explain to the employee that the intention is to help them improve their performance. Such interviews can be harrowing for the employee, so set them at ease.

During the review, your primary goal is to find out the source of the poor performance.

Why is the Performance Poor?

Assuming you have set the job description, end results and statistics correctly, there are several reasons why the performance of an employee is not up to scratch.

  1. The employee has no idea of what is expected of them.
  2. They are lacking training or knowledge, so are unable to perform the required tasks.
  3. There is a non-work related problem that is distracting them from their job.
  4. The employee is not suited to the job.
  5. They are simply a poor performer in anything they do.

Establishing which one of the above is the actual situation is a matter of asking questions.

  • “What is it you are trying to produce in your job?”
  • “Is there some training that you need to make it easier to do your job?”
  • “Do you have a personal problem that is consuming your attention at the moment?”
  • “Do you like what you are doing?”
  • “What changes would have to take place for you to do better?”

Use as many variations of these questions as you have to; until you are certain you have the real reason for the poor performance classified.

How to Handle the Reason for Poor Performance

  1. The employee has no idea of what is expected of them. Fix their lack of understanding. Go over the job description, end results and statistics with them to make sure they have a good grasp of the job.

    If they brighten up on this exercise and seem to know now what is expected of them, send them back to work. You must then set another review about 4 weeks ahead to look again at how they are going.

  2. They are lacking training or knowledge, so are unable to perform the required tasks. Get them trained. If another employee (or yourself) can do this, fine. If not, organise some external education for them.

    Once again, set a follow-up review with them. Set it for about 4 weeks after their training has been completed.

  3. There is a non-work related problem that is distracting them from their job. You have to tread carefully here. Don’t get too involved in solving personal problems for your employees. See Problem Management for details on how to handle this situation.

    Schedule another review about 4 weeks after the external problem has been solved (or isolated, so that it no longer affects their performance).

  4. The employee is not suited to the job. Here you have a square peg in a round hole. They may well be a potentially valuable asset to your operation, but if they are poorly placed, you will not be able to tap into that potential.

    Look over your operation and see if there is a better fitting job for them. Keep a close eye on them as they settle into the new position.

    If this is not feasible, you may be faced with terminating them. See Employee Dismissal for some tips in this area.

  5. They are simply a poor performer in anything they do. This is the last resort. If none of the other reasons for poor performance fit, you are again faced with an employee you need to terminate.

The Follow-Up Review

In the second review, you repeat the whole process:

  • Refresh your understanding of the job description, results and statistics for the job.
  • Review the statistics for the period since the last review.
  • Handle the employee in accordance with their new statistical level.

If they are still performing badly, make sure you identified the correct reason in the last review. Repeat the original process and handling, if you got it wrong the first time.

If the previous assessment was correct and they are still not improving, you may simply have a chronic poor performer on your hands. Termination is the only answer here.

If, on the other hand, their results are starting to pick up, your previous assessment and action was correct, so carry on in that direction.

Set further follow-up reviews to continue to monitor the situation. When they come up to a “normal” level of production, you have done your job. You have handled the poor performance.

Conclusion

The main reasons for poor performance are:

  1. Job description, end results or statistics not clear.
  2. Lack of training or knowledge.
  3. Personal problems getting in the way.
  4. Employee is not suited to the job.
  5. They are simply a poor performer in anything they do.

Isolate the real reason from the above list and then handle the specific situation. You then have a good chance of turning poor performance into valuable productivity.


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