How to Manage a Poor Performer

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If you are a manager or an owner of a business and have a poor performer in your team, then you are likely frustrated and worried, not only about what to do about the poor performer, but also the impact the poor performance is having on the rest of your team and your business.

The first step to dealing with a poor performer is accepting that it is your problem, and you need to do something about it. Many managers often wish the poor performer would just leave. But in the majority of cases, at first, that’s not really going to happen. Nor is there any quick fix if it is a serious performance issue.

There are some simple steps you can follow when managing a poor performer:

  1. From the start, set reasonable expectations for the employee, with clear standards.
  2. As soon as you notice someone is under-performing, find out what is wrong and how you might be able to help before the issue reaches formal status. This might mean having a heart-to-heart with the employee. It is important to determine whether the poor performance is related to personal factors, or whether it might be related to the work environment or job tasks. 
  3. At this stage, you need to make sure the poor performer is very clear about what is expected of them. If the under-performance is still ongoing then:
    • Gather facts and examples of poor performance, which demonstrate the employee has not met the expectations and standards set out. Be very clear about which expectations or standards the employee is not meeting.
    • Do all you can to help your employee to reach the required standard. Usually, this may involve arranging additional training, setting new objectives specifically around the outcomes they need to make to meet the specific standards; formally monitoring work so the under-performer gets regular feedback about progress.
  4. Your company should have simple policies in place about how you will deal with a poor performer, and you need to make sure these are followed each and every time.  The policies need to be clear about when poor performance will be tackled formally, how long the monitoring period will be, and what the consequences are if the employee does not meet performance standards.

Many managers fear to tackle poor performance because either they are not clear about what to do, they think it will take too long, the employee will react badly, or worse that they might get taken to an employment tribunal. If any of those fears arise, then you must keep in mind that:

  • Your business needs employees to fulfill their contract to do the job you hired them to do.
  • If you act from facts and specific examples, then it’s easier to keep the problem (and solution) in mind.
  • Making sure you are clear about your bottom line is vital. If you don’t know what that is, then you must determine it before you take any action.
  • Remaining fair and kind, but firm; is more effective than feeling angry or frustrated.  Just because an employee isn’t performing well, doesn’t mean they are an enemy.
  • Get help from an expert if you really aren’t sure about what to do with a poor performer.
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