Most managers hate managing problems in the work place. Dealing with capability where the employee can’t meet the employer’s requirements, as opposed to misconduct where the employee won’t meet the employer’s requirements, is viewed with fear by many managers. An ability to identify and tackle poor work performance effective in a timely fashion is essential. After the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig in April, BP’s clean-up performance did not impress the Obama administration. BP received a bill of about £150m (at the time of writing) and its share value declined. Getting work done effectively through your team is the essence of being a manager. It’s not always easy, but putting off dealing with employees who are not delivering to the standard you require is the worst thing to do. It might seem easier to ‘work round’ a poor performer, but other employees resent carrying a colleague. They might leave, you could end up doing the work yourself, or it may be that the work just doesn’t get done. That’s not a satisfactory outcome. The starting point is to investigate the matter with the employee to identify the root cause of the problem. The solution should become apparent. If you can remove or reduce the cause of the problem, the employee's performance is likely to improve. In one case a manager had to correct an employee who was producing technical reports for a client. The reports didn’t meet the manager’s standard in terms of written English and he wondered how to approach the employee. This is the feedback he gave: “When we write or review these polices, not only do we have to get the technical stuff right, it’s a good opportunity to clarify and clean up the English and grammar. The aim, therefore, is to ensure that sentences are complete, proper nouns are used consistently and correctly, we avoid inappropriate or unnecessary repetition and use fairly simple English. The vast majority of people who read them regularly in the UK read tabloids, i.e. they are pitched at a reading age of about ten, so it’s essential to use simple, straightforward language. “When reviewing documents I always find it helpful to do the work, put it aside, then print off and read the documents before sending. It’s easier to spot mistakes. For example, there was a reference to a partner in the documents you sent me which you had not picked up. ABC co. is a limited company, so there are no partners, but it’s easily missed when you only check on screen.’ The manager chatted this through with the employee. Amongst other things, it turned out that the employee didn’t know what proper nouns were. By discussing the standards with the employee in an objective fashion, the problem was quickly remedied. The key components of managing performance successfully are: • setting and communicating standards
• regular feedback
• correction where needed Discuss the issue with the employee as soon as you notice that he is not performing work to the standard you require. Keep the conversation objective and stick to the facts. So, for example, you would say: “You've missed the monthly deadline six times this year so far, on each occasion by at least two days”, rather than: “You're hopeless – you never meet your deadlines”. Create a performance improvement plan in which you agree and set down precise, measurable performance targets. Monitor them over the next few weeks, providing support, training and feedback as required. Make sure that you keep notes of all your conversations. Give enough time for the employee to improve. This should be at least one to three months, but it does depend on the circumstances. If in doubt, give more time rather than less. Note that the process of encouraging the employee to improve his performance starts at the informal stage. If it becomes necessary to escalate to the formal process, the performance improvement plan will continue to run in parallel with any formal sanctions. With the economic recovery still in a very fragile state we need to do all we can to perform to the optimum. Managing poor work performance doesn’t have to be a huge draining presence, to be carefully stepped round. By adopting these tips, you’ll find that it’s relatively straightforward. Just add your persistence and determination and you’ll achieve your goal.
Kate Russell is the author of 'How To Get Top Marks In … Managing Poor Work Performance'.