- Knowledge Centre

How To Manage A Poor Performer

Managing a poor performer is one of the most frustrating, draining and time consuming activity you as a manager will need to deal with.  If you have already had to deal with a poor performance issue, you’ll already know how challenging it can be, time wise and emotionally.

Poor performance can occur for many reasons; some of the most common reasons including:-

The individual is not capable or technically competent at a task, so cannot perform to the required standard.

The good news is, you can work with this, on the job coaching and peer to peer coaching is a fantastic way to help a team member improve their competence and reach the required standard, quickly and with low time investment.

The individual is not willing to perform to the required standard, however much you attempt to support, coaching and manage him or her will not help purely because s/he won’t accept it.

The bad news is, in this instance, your energy, focus, time and motivation are tested to the limit.  Other team members who perhaps deserve your attention, coaching and support may tend to not get it, purely because, alongside you having to deliver multiple projects to ridiculously tight deadlines, the ‘poor performer’ is getting the attention.

The Challenge

If a team members is flat out refusing to perform, rather than not being able to perform, how should you address the issue?  When is enough, really enough?  When should your HR Manager (if your organisation has one) get involved?  How do you minimise the potential for a tough talk becoming a stand-off, or full blown battle of personalities?  Here are a few thoughts from what we have repeatedly witnessed working in client organisations.

Firstly, explore whether the challenge is ‘can’t do’ or ‘won’t do’.  Understanding which of these applies is your first step to understanding whether structured coaching support is required and helpful, or whether the issue is more one of attitude.

For ‘can’t do’, discuss and agree what specific coaching on which specific task, skill or competence is required.  Step out of your own shoes as an under pressure manager, step in to your team member’s shoes and design your support to equip your colleague with tools they need, rather than just what you think they need.

For ‘won’t do’, follow Steven Covey’s recommendation by ‘Seeking first to understand, and then be understood’. However emotive the ‘won’t do’ issue may be, however unacceptable the individual’s behaviour and attitude may be, manage your focus and ask ‘Just so I can understand your reason/s for not wanting to perform to the standard the organisation expects of you, please will you write them down and then share them with me?’  Why is this approach so effective?  

Firstly, you may receive some feedback you normally wouldn’t have; this may include feedback about you, your personal impact, management style or communication approach which your team member doesn’t welcome or appreciate.  This is valuable feedback…if it isn’t given in an ‘attack’ mindset.

Secondly, when you ask your colleague to write down their reason/s for under performing, this creates emotional pressure to actually commit in ink, information it would be rather difficult for him or her to withdraw at any point in the future.  

Remember, your role and intention is not to undermine or catch out your colleague, but to understand his or her reason/s for not performing as they trusted to do, and implement a practical and worthwhile improvement plan.

Know when to involve your HR team and line manager.  In most cases of ‘won’t do’, it is best to involve HR and line manager earlier rather than later in the process.  Even if involving them is just to help them understand an issue which requires and deserves resolving exists. Don’t for a moment believe that resolving the issue on your own is the best thing to do with the ‘I’m the manager…I’ll resolve it’ attitude.

Such commendable commitments have fallen foul of hr policy and legislation in the past – and you really don’t want to be on that list!  Instead, check your HR policy and procedures and be guided by them.  Doing the process correctly may take a little time, but don’t rush the process; instead, let the process take its course.

Ask your ‘won’t do’ and ‘can’t do’ colleagues, ‘If there were two things I could do to support you to improve your effectiveness, what would they be?’  This authentic, somewhat surprising question begins to focus their brain on solutions, collaboration and, transparent dialogue.  When you have asked the question, just be quiet, and listen.  

Don’t feel the need or urge to cover any awkward silence from your colleague.  S/he may just be thinking and reflecting.  

When answers and solutions do begin to appear, collaborate to agree a course of action, and share responsibility for turning around the current level of performance.

Yes, this is all easier said than done..But it can be done!  And you’ll be able to focus more on doing the few things that really matter, rather than the many things that don’t.

Find out more about Performance Management Training or call us on 0845 052 3701.

The specific outcomes I set for the project were delivered much more quickly than I anticipated.
P Gilroy
 - Head of Community Support Services, Denbighshire County Council