7 Steps to Managing Performance

from Silk Helix
Photograph of Jenefer Livings, Founder of Silk Helix Ltd
12 January 2022
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When someone in your team isn’t performing it’s frustrating and disruptive to the whole team. If it’s not tackled quickly problems will escalate and become more challenging to resolve. It’s essential that any performance that falls below expectations is tackled quickly, in most cases, a quick conversation will resolve the issue.

What is Underperformance?

Underperformance occurs when the outputs of the individual or the team fall below expectations. This could include:

  • Single one-off mistakes
  • Decreased quantity of output
  • Decreased quality of work
  • Lack of compliance with rules and procedures
  • Negative attitudes or disruptive behaviours

When it comes to formally managing poor performance we have to consider whether the issue is one of capability, i.e. can’t do what is expected or conduct, i.e. won’t do what is expected. The difference is important especially if the matter comes to dismissal, in conduct cases the ACAS code of practice on Disciplinary Procedures will apply, this won’t always be the case in capability situations.

1. Define Performance

Performance can only fall below expectations when we have expectations, the reality is of course as Managers or Business owners we’ll always have expectations of others, crucially those need to be clear to all involved.

Driving the performance of the team and motivating them to achieve requires clear goals and directions for the business as a whole. Sharing with the team the priorities of the business, how they contribute to them and sharing success is important to keeping people motivated.

Defining the overall goals and then defining what that means for individuals, whether that be goals, objectives, targets, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), is crucial to being able to measure performance and therefore tackle underperformance. At the same time, when we’re clear on the expectations people are far more likely to achieve what is expected.

2. Hold a Meeting to Understand the Cause of Underperformance and Set Expectations

Meetings should be a regular part of your day to day performance management. Meetings ensure you have a forum to pick up problems quickly as well as providing the opportunity for feedback, thanks, praise and setting new objectives.

As a starting point, a meeting should be held to set the objectives, discuss what you also have in writing to ensure all parties are clear on what is expected. This is also the opportunity to discuss resources, skills and other support that may be needed.

Meetings should then take place to discuss performance and progress, where performance is falling short of expectations a key discussion point is “why”. When we understand the causes of poor performance we’re in a much better position to resolve them.

3. Create an Action Plan

As an outcome to any meeting, whether it be initially to set expectations or following up, an action plan tells both parties what will happen next. When the individual is involved in setting the action plan there is more likely to be ownership of the resolution.

Even in good performance an action plan can be used to prompt further progress, next steps to stretch the individual.

The action plan should be specific, with timescales and measurable outcomes - when it is, usually the individual knows they’ve fallen short before we even need a meeting to discuss it. When they know and recognise the problems themselves the conversation and path to resolution is much easier.

4. Hold Follow up Meetings

How often progress meetings are needed depends on the nature of the business and the individuals’ role, however, they are important. When we’re regularly following up on performance and discussing progress we can nip issues in the bud quickly.

5. Provide Support, Coaching and Feedback

This stage is crucial. When we understand the cause of poor performance we can provide the support that is needed. This may be:

  • Training to develop skills
  • Resources to make the job possible, easier or more efficient
  • Coaching to develop confidence and on-going problem solving

And, don’t forget feedback, it is important people know where they are meeting expectations, where they need improvement and how what they are doing fits with the overall business.

6. Keep Thorough Notes

When managing poor performance, our immediate focus should be improvement, however, this must not stop us from being prepared to dismiss. As I said at the start, underperformance is disruptive - it can have significant negative impacts on the business, if this person cannot perform to the level that is required in the role the best thing for everyone will be to dismiss.

Dismissal requires a fair process, which requires evidence, your notes will provide that evidence of all that you have done to date.

On a positive note, recording the expectations,specific details of the underperformance and the action plan will also help to focus both Manager and individual on the improvement needed. A record of discussions really is beneficial.

7. If it Still Doesn’t Improve, Follow a Formal Capability Procedure

Where you’ve tried all the informal routes above and the level of performance still isn’t meeting expectations it’s time to escalate to a formal process.

You’ll need to invite them to a meeting to discuss their performance, they’ll have the right to be accompanied by a work colleague or trade union representative and you’ll have to tell them the possible outcomes. At the first stage it is likely that an action plan or formal warning will be the outcome, should this stage need repeating then dismissal may become the outcome.

At the meeting you’ll:

  • Define the expected performance - check their understanding and that they are aware of the expectations. The notes you’ve taken in the information process will help you do this.
  • Discuss their performance and the gap between this and the expectations.
  • Agree an action plan for improvement, be specific, ensure you can measure the result and set a timescale.
  • Clearly inform the employee of the next stage if performance does not improve.

Follow up the meeting in writing to confirm what was discussed and the outcome.

If performance still does not improve, you’ll invite them to a further formal meeting, following the same process described above. The outcome of each meeting will build on the last, where performance hasn’t improved this may mean dismissal. A capability dismissal will be a dismissal with notice, you will need to write and confirm the dismissal and the reasons for dismissal.

When issuing a formal warning or dismissing you must always give the right to appeal the decision.

Experts in HR for Small Business

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While this guide covers the basics, every situation has its own complexities so you should always seek professional advice. We can help, so call us on 01245 910 500.
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Article last updated: 12 January 2022

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