How to Address and Manage Poor Performance in the Workplace

Performance management is one of the most significant duties of a manager or small business owner, and addressing poor performance is essential to operating a successful business. While managers often view this as one of their least favorite job responsibilities, the ability to motivate and mentor employees through performance feedback is a valuable skill and the sign of true leader. Managing poor performance shouldn’t be about uncomfortable situations with confrontation, finger pointing, anger, and denial, and if it is, the process needs a total overhaul. Poor performance management shouldn’t be a big event, it should be addressed at the first sign of any deviation in expected behavior and managed incrementally. Confronting poor performers is essential and it is always better to deal with such situations, instead of ignoring them, in order to maintain the consistence of productivity and profitability.

Managing poor performance requires 3 basic steps: 1) understanding what’s causing the poor performance, 2) addressing the poor performance, and 3) changing behaviors to improve performance.


Understanding What’s Causing the Poor Performance

Put personal feelings aside and focus on behavior, not personality. Ensure that the employee has a clear job description and a system by which to measure end results. Then make sure that the employee knows what is expected of them. Once expectations are clear you can determine if there is a lack of training or knowledge that is impeding their ability to perform the required tasks. Try to assess what may be happening with the employee and understand if it is circumstantial or actual performance. Is there a personal problem that may be affecting the employee’s ability to deliver results or is the employee simply the wrong person for the job?


Confronting the Poor Performance

Once this assessment has been determined it is time to confront the employee. Nothing makes managing performance more difficult than when you lack details and specifics so having data, factual information, and specific evidence is essential. Do not rely on hearsay. Talk to the employee as soon as possible, and listen to what they have to say. Let them know you are concerned, not accusing. Never confront the employee in anger and do not let the situation become emotional. Ask the employee for their opinion of their own performance, then outline your concerns. Work with the employee to identify the causes for the performance issues and potential ways to fix them.


Changing Behaviors to Improve Performance

After confronting the employee, get their opinion of your assessment of their performance and ask them what should be done to address the problem. This gives the employee the opportunity to take ownership of their performance and should be a motivating factor in improving the performance. Agree on a solution and put together an incremental plan for improved performance. For example, if a lack of training or guidance is the problem, more oversight or remedial instruction may allow the employee to improve performance. Whatever the agreed upon solution may be, as you observe the employee making changes and improvements, be sure to recognize them with positive reinforcements. If things don’t improve be prepared to take action for the betterment of the team as a whole. Terminating an employee should be the last resort, but if it is the determined action, use a fair and consistent procedure.

Addressing poor performance should not be a big deal and doesn’t have to be the dreaded event we make of it. Address poor performance at the first observation of inappropriate behavior and allow it to become an opportunity for coaching, development, and leadership.