The extension from one year to two years for right to file unfair dismissal claims in April is a welcome change for most employers. There is a lurking fear that where employment is terminated, that disgruntled employees will resort to including other elements in a claim for example under the Equalities Act. This should not daunt or deter you.
The extension of rights should not affect your approach to managing underperformance. I’m sure you would agree, if it took you two years to identify and manage underperformance, there is something wrong. Your people management skills will make sure that even though there is no recourse to tribunal, your termination processes and practices are fair. This is especially important when you are managing underperformance.
Managing underperformance can be the most time-consuming task you have to undertake. It takes a skilled and experienced manager to be expert and slick when it comes to raising individual performance. One of the most frustrating experiences for a team is when they feel they are carrying a member who is not pulling their weight.
The respondents in the CIPD Report entitled “Performance management in action” which can be found here “confirm that performance management is an enduring tool that has a pivotal role to play in the management of people”. Whilst this is an excellent way to bring on talent and drive up results, the downside for any manager is managing underperformance.
Underperformance can appear at any stage in the employment lifecycle. Obviously you need to be extra vigilant in any trial period. I have seen many managers give people the benefit of the doubt and live to rue the day they confirmed a permanent appointment, when they really had niggling doubts. This is a time when you need to have a zero tolerance approach. Either someone cuts it or they don’t.
So what are the do’s and don’ts of managing underperformance?
- Miss the telling signs in the trial period. Follow up on any issues which arise during that time.
- Wait until the next performance review. Deal with any emerging problems as soon as they become apparent.
- Develop an attitude or fixed view of the employee, there may be many reasons for underperformance
- Ignore what other people are saying about someone’s underperformance; subtly check it out, if you don’t at first agree
- Wait until a major incident or disaster occurs
- Wait until everyone else in the workplace is totally fed up because of the underperformance.
- Confuse a performance issue with a conduct issue. Misconduct of course impacts on performance, but they are two totally different issues.
- Wait until the underperformer goes off on sick leave.
- Have a fair and equitable way of measuring performance for all employees
- Use your internal policies and procedures for managing underperformance. Your policies should be designed to assist you to get it right. If they don’t then you should raise it with whoever develops them.
- Identify the precise areas of underperformance. Exactly what element of performance is the employee not achieving? Performance can be lack of productivity, efficiency, effectiveness, or under developed skill set, to name a few.
- Have clear examples and facts about the underperformance. Do not rely on hearsay, because your boss told you to do it, or gut feelings.
- Keep an open mind about the reasons for underperformance. You do not know what is going on in the employee’s life. Don’t assume they are underperforming and they just can’t hack it.
- Talk to the underperformer as soon as possible, and listen to what they have to say. Let them know you are concerned, not accusing.
- Ask them about external factors, their own views about their performance, and what they think the expectations of them are. Ask them about training and skill sets.
- Develop a clear and SMART action plan. The outcomes of the action plan must actually prove to you that the employee is capable and willing to bridge the performance gap, and be able to sustain it without constant supervision.
- Meet regularly and give honest accurate feedback about their progress. Listen to how they perceive it and amend the action plan if there are credible reasons for lack of progress. Use your judgement about how often you might do this though!
- Give them every support in terms of training, mentoring, materials and guidance they might need.
- Be kind. The majority of people want to do well at work and it can be a nightmare experience for them if for some reason their performance isn’t up to scratch. Genuinely wish them well and hope that they succeed.
- Be confident. You know how you want your team to work. Don’t settle for anything less, and expect great not mediocre results for your team.
If you manage underperforming staff well and actually manage to raise performance, then this not only instils a sense of achievement for the employee, but also gives a great message out to other staff that you are fair and tuned in to what is happening. Your team might not know when underperformance is being successfully tackled. But they certainly do if it is not being addressed at all.
What do you think? Do you have your own Do’s and Don’ts when managing underperformance? I’d love to hear from you.