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Written by Andy Trainer – Thu 21 Apr 2011
One of the most daunting tasks for any manager, and especially a newly appointed manager (who often manage people who were formerly at the same level), is dealing with poor performance. However – not dealing with poor performance will, in the long run, give a manager much bigger problems to overcome.
programmes, as well as on our Appraisals Training Course. All of these courses run on a public basis.
This article provides some practical advice for managers on how to prepare for, conduct, and follow up a meeting to tackle poor performance
1. Define and clarify the problem
2. Will the individual recognise that there is a problem?
It may be dangerous to assume that the person concerned is aware that what he/she is doing is not acceptable. This may be because:
You will need to establish what, if anything, has been said to the individual before, how he/she responded and what, if anything, was agreed. This may involve your consulting the previous appraisal form and/or speaking with a previous supervisor or manager.
Thinking through this process will give you an indication of how the individual is likely to react to you during the discussion, and you can plan your strategy accordingly.
3. Has the individual demonstrated acceptable performance/conduct at other times?
If you can identify situations or periods when he/she got it right (i.e. when he/she performed well), either now or in the past, this will help you to clarify the precise nature of the current problem.
You will be able to describe the difference in specific terms, make your feedback to the individual much more focused and define your requirements in a much more useful way, aiding action planning.
Also, demonstrating the individual’s capacity to produce what is required will enable you to maintain a positive, motivational slant in the discussion.
4. Consider any contributory factors or mitigating circumstances
A wide range of issues concerning the clarity of the person’s job, the working environment, colleagues, your leadership style and external factors may have influenced a performance or conduct problem.
While some of these issues may emerge more fully during the discussion, you may be able to identify some pointers of your own beforehand from your knowledge of the individual.
5. Establish back-up/take advice
Your manager may offer advice based on previous experience of dealing with staff related difficulties, and will be in a position to reassure you if you are feeling uncertain about whether or not to raise a sensitive issue with a member of staff.
Even if you are clear about what you intend to do, it is often a good idea to brief your manager before you talk to the individual. This can be useful if you are concerned about the individual’s reaction to you.
It forewarns your manager and enables you to establish his/her support if the matter has to be referred up at a later date or in the case of any dispute between you and the job holder.
Establishing the ‘gap’
In this part of the discussion, you set out to explore the issue, to clarify the problem and to reach a consensus with the individual about the nature of any ‘gap’ between his/her current performance/conduct and what is expected.
You need to give the individual your feedback and explain why some change needs to take place. Your feedback should relate to facts, which can be supported by practical specific examples. Feedback based on generalisations about a person’s character, personality or attitudes is seldom likely to be well-received and does not lend itself to a commitment to change.
Prior to giving your feedback, it is sensible to ask the individual for his/her explanation. This is vital for several reasons:
Sometimes, the self discipline administered by the employee may be harsher than any feedback or action being considered by the manager or supervisor.
Ask before you tell. This approach, making use of open ended questions when appropriate, should be used to encourage the individual to explain his/her view of events, to explore performance and conduct and its effects on his/her work and others, and to look at the situation from your point of view.
You are trying to get the individual to take responsibility for the problem and its solution. Out of a personal sense of responsibility comes a commitment to solve it.
Useful questions for exploring the “gap” include the following:
The following may be useful approaches to get the individual to consider the effects of his/her approach on others:
If you have provided feedback, you need to get a response to it:
This is about the individual’s commitment to a plan of action which will rectify the problem. Action planning is not a question of your announcing and imposing a ready-made set of solutions. Your interview technique should aim to bring about ‘willing co-operation’.
Once you have reached agreement on the existence of a problem, through questions and feedback, the action planning process involves exploring possible solutions, evaluating them and establishing specific goals with an appropriate monitoring process.
The following questions may be helpful:
Encourage the interviewee to evaluate his/her ideas:
Support from you may be additional training or coaching, or other actions to address specific problems. You must be seen to act and provide the support required.
Once you have got the individual’s commitment, pin him/her down to specifics. If you leave things too vague they may be unsure about what is expected and it will make any follow-up action all the more difficult.
Sometimes it will be appropriate to allow some time for the agreed improvement to take place. This may apply to some performance problems (e.g. a failure to meet targets or quality standards) where a training need has been identified.
Other issues may demand a more immediate solution, for example poor timekeeping. It will depend on the nature of the problem.
Remember that the solution needs to be acceptable to you on behalf of the company. Ideally it will also be acceptable to the employee, but there will be occasions on which you need to make a decision which may not be to the employee’s liking.
Your decision should be fair and reasonable given all of the circumstances, and you should explain your reasons to the employee.
Having gathered more information and listened to the individual’s side of the story, you may feel that you need to take advice before going any further. It is quite acceptable to adjourn the meeting, advising him/her that you will come back once you have given the matter some more thought.
Once you have arrived at a specific solution you mustL
If the employee does improve conduct or performance as required, reinforce the improvement by giving positive feedback and praise.
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