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Helping poor performers

Scott Beagrie

Poor performance when left to fester can have a massively detrimental effect on both managers and organisations as much, if not more than the individual guilty of it. Follow Edge’s seven-point plan to help failing team members raise their game

Determine whether it really is poor performance

Managers need to assess whether the employee is consistently performing below average or whether it is a case of one or two blips on an otherwise good record. This will be much easier to ascertain if you have been regularly monitoring their performance over a period of months. Are they meeting their objectives? And, if not, is it solely down to them or perhaps a lack of support, feedback or resources? Make sure that their poor performance cant be blamed on any of your own shortcomings or weaknesses as a manager, or something else outside of their control within the organisation. Also have they failed to respond to any feedback or constructive criticism intended to help them? Consider their behaviour in the broader picture: how good is their attendance and time-keeping? What is there attitude to co-workers and vice-versa? Develop an all-round picture of the individual in the workplace before judging them.

Tackle it head on

If you've done everything in your power as a manager to give the individual every chance of succeeding, you have to confront them. Elaine Wilson, principal consultant at development consultancy, ASK Europe, reckons managers often put off having this more robust and assertive conversation in favour of a softer, less direct approach. When I look back to my days as a young manager, I didn't realise there was this conversation to be had, she says. I knew about coaching conversations and I knew about disciplinary matters but no-one had told me that there was a conversation to be had in between these two points that would prevent the need for formal measures.

What you need to say

Present a picture of their poor performance in a factual and clear-cut way. Outline specific examples of where they have fallen short and the direct impact it has had on the organisation or the rest of the team. Perhaps it contributed to a lost pitch or client dissatisfaction. As long as you have firm evidence to back up what you say they wont be able to argue with you. Make it clear that other members of the team are delivering in a similar environment and set of circumstances, says Wilson. For some people this is the moment that they wake up and realise they have problems. You cant help a poor performer until they've acknowledged they have a problem. Once they realise and acknowledge this, its much easier to have an open conversation about why they aren't delivering.

Present a picture of their poor performance in a factual and clear-cut way. Outline specific examples of where they have fallen short and the direct impact it has had on the organisation or the rest of the team. Perhaps it contributed to a lost pitch or client dissatisfaction. As long as you have firm evidence to back up what you say they wont be able to argue with you. Make it clear that other members of the team are delivering in a similar environment and set of circumstances, says Wilson. For some people this is the moment that they wake up and realise they have problems. You cant help a poor performer until they've acknowledged they have a problem. Once they realise and acknowledge this, its much easier to have an open conversation about why they aren't delivering.

Address the nub of the problem

As the individuals manager, it is essential to be certain that you have pinpointed the root cause of the poor performance as merely treating the symptoms will only bring short-term and superficial improvement. While you need to be assertive and tough, steer clear of intimidating the individual to the extent that they shy away from telling you about more personal or private issues that may be impeding their performance. Employ active listening and encourage the individual to be open about anything that might be affecting their work, says Wilson.

Agree an improvement plan

Having established the barriers to performance and any other problems, work out how best to tackle the issues by devising an action plan. Do they need training to bridge a skills gap or improve their personal effectiveness? Wilson advises laying new ground rules and recommends that any goals set have shorter timeframes. Make notes and a record of the discussion and what needs to happen next. Ensure the individual has clarity over what is expected of them. Its also a good idea to ask the individual to sum up the conversation and plan of action in an email to you to make sure they've understood everything, says Wilson. This can also be used to keep them accountable.

Keep a close watch on them

Having put the plan into action, avoid leaving the person just to get on with it as this may have been an initial part of the problem. To ensure they stay on track, you will need an adaptable management style and initially go back to being more hands on and prescriptive about how they will fulfil their objectives, says Wilson. This is also when you can use coaching and a more coaching style of management to support the individual. At the same time, don't stifle the individual and make them feel as if they are being constantly monitored; be sure to praise and encourage them when progress is made. Managers must approach any improvement plan with a positive attitude or else the individual will feel beaten before they embark on it. Make it clear you genuinely want them to succeed.

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