Best Practices in Managing Poor Performing Team Members

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Best Practices in Managing Poor Performing Team Members. For any team manager that is managing employee performance, it is critical that they are familiar with best practices in this area and have had formal training and certification on the topic. If they have not already done so, it is important that they attend a performance management training course and receive the essential training and certification. This is the first step in being able then to help the underperforming employee.

Dealing with underperformance starts with clearly defining the seriousness of the underperformance, and this, in turn, demands that a clear definition for “successful performance” has already been defined, agreed and communicated. This “baseline” performance target needs to have been established & communicated during the previous appraisal or induction meeting. In order to determine whether an employee is underperforming, it is necessary to identify clear evidence of where the baseline has not been reached. Examples of specific work, appraisals, 360-degree reviews may all be used.  It is only then that we have identified the gap of underperformance. This “performance gap” should be the area of focus going forward.

Before we help someone to improve their performance we need to understand what aspect of their performance is specifically causing the problem. In order to do this, we need to explore what exactly performance is. An interesting perspective is that Performance = Ability multiplied by Motivation.

  • Ability is the person’s aptitude, as well as the training and resources supplied by the organization.
  •  Motivation is the product of desire and commitment.

This can help reveal that the driver of the underperformance may not be down to poor motivation for example. It may be down to a lack of ability for the job. The important point is that incorrect diagnosis may simply exacerbate the problem e.g. mistakenly believing that effort and motivation are the problems that could lead a manager to increase pressure to perform even though the real issue is the individual’s “ability” to perform the role. This, in turn, could then lead to even worse performance.              

So, what actions may be helpful and what may be a hindrance in resolving the poor performance? First of all, take action sooner rather than later as it is simply unfair to let a false impression of good performance develop. Be sure to have a frank and honest conversation with the employee so they know where they stand. Next, consider how you might be contributing to the issue with your own actions (or lack thereof). Then create a measurable performance development plan together with the employee, including a clear follow-up process. Finally,  be sure to document each step and commitment so that you have a record to go back to later.

On the flip-side, don’t forget to follow up even when high priorities arise.  Regular monitoring is the key to success. Also, don’t waste time coaching an employee that refuses to accept that there is an issue. Be careful not to discuss specific individual performance issues with the wider team. You need to maintain respect and confidentiality throughout the process.

If capabilities have been identified as the root cause of the underperformance then the manager has various options available to them.

  1. Resupply – are additional resources required?
  2.  Retrain – have skills become outdated?
  3.  Refit – could it be appropriate to adopt the role itself?
    1.  Could a different combination of tasks be a better fit? Reallocate others.
  4.  Reassign – reducing the demands of the job, but keep it challenging.
  5.  Release – if you have determined that nothing more can be done to support the employee, it may simply be time to part ways.

If motivation has been determined as the core issue you should try:

  • The setting of performance goals.
  •  Provision of performance assistance.
  •  Provision of performance feedback.
  •  Once you have made your absolute best effort, and have reasonably exhausted all options it is probably time to let the person go…respectfully!

Allowing a reasonable timeframe to allow the individual to turn around their poor performance is something that many managers struggle to determine. More complex roles will require a longer turnaround period. Managing underperformers within your organization is a delicate process, but one that needs to be addressed quickly and in a structured manner. Understanding the root causes of the underperformance (ability or motivation?) is critical.

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