Five-part plan for managing problem employee work performance
Do all your employees meet all of your
management standards most of the time? If the answer is "no",
then there's work to do or your business will simply go on leaking
money. Poor work performance is a far more common complaint
than misconduct. Kate Russell, known as the UK's HR
Headmistess, advises how to overcome this all too common
An ability to identify and tackle poor work performance in an
effective, timely fashion is an essential management skill. Failure
is costly. Take BP's performance in April 2010. BP's attempts to
resolve the enormous oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico after
the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig was clearly viewed by
the Obama administration as very poor. The costs of the
clean-up operation and of the funds put aside for future losses
stemming from the spill have been put at billions.
The essence of being a manager is getting work done effectively
through your team. It can be a tough job!
The key components of managing performance successfully are:
- setting and communicating standards
- regular feedback
- correction where needed.
Unfortunately, where there is a problem it doesn't usually go
away by itself.
Where you have a poor work performance issue, try to identify
the cause of the problem. Managers can be tempted to assume that
performance problems arise because of an employee's carelessness or
lack of effort; some employees will be guilty of this, but it's not
automatically the cause.
Once you have isolated the root cause of the unsatisfactory
performance, the solution to the problem should then become
apparent. If you can remove or reduce the cause of the problem, the
employee's performance is likely to improve.
Secondly, try to nip problems in the bud.
Gerry couldn't carry out his duties properly and was causing
serious production problems. The employer came to me wanting to
sack Gerry. In expressing his considerable frustration, he
said: "He's always been like this; slow to learn and loses the
skills he does manage to gain quickly." I asked how long
Gerry had been working there, expecting the employer to say
something like, "About six months." I was amazed when the
reply was "15 years - and he's always been bloody useless…!"
The third stage in the process is to create a performance
improvement plan (PIP). Agree and set down precise
performance targets which are capable of being measured.
- Agree a process to keep both of you informed of progress and
- If the employee needs any training, specify that in the
- Build in a date for an interim performance evaluation to assess
the employee's progress.
- Include the employee's suggestions in the PIP.
- List the positive outcomes of successfully completing the
performance improvement plan along with the negative consequences
of failing to meet performance criteria.
- Ask the employee to date and sign the PIP,
acknowledging that he has read and understands its
- Note that the process of encouraging the employee to improve
his performance starts at the informal stage. If it becomes
necessary to escalate to the formal process, the PIP will continue
to run in parallel with any formal sanctions.
The fourth element is to monitor progress and provide regular
feedback. Review at weekly intervals, so you keep track of
progress. If the situation picks up and the employee starts to
perform better, this will be encouraging for both of you. Give
accurate and targeted feedback. Try to focus on the positive as
this will increase motivation and performance.
Lastly, give enough time for the employee to improve; this
should be at least one to three months, but it does depend on the
circumstances. If in doubt give more time rather than less.
If the employee's performance does not improve after the
informal approach you can move to the formal process. The efforts
to guide your employee to a raised standard of performance would
continue in parallel with any formal sanctions.
Kate Russell is one of the UK's foremost employment
and HR experts, public speaker and author who is known as the HR
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