Assuming that you are a leader/manager/coordinator or have responsibility in some capacity, when a team member’s performance, conduct or attendance falls short of expectation, it has to be addressed.
HOWEVER, before you speak to the employee in question, you must prepare yourself by gathering evidence of the problem.
Addressing poor performance is never easy, but having evidence at hand to help you to explain the problems will make the process far easier and will allow you to counter any opposition from the employee.
When addressing problems with performance, it is important not to prejudge the situation. Presenting evidence as factually based examples will help you to avoid placing your own interpretation on the issue, which in turn will help you to approach the meeting objectively, dispassionately and professionally.
Managing Poor Performance In The Workplace
Performance management makes up a significant part of every manager’s job, and this means managers must deal with poor performance. Managers often view this as one of the less desirable responsibilities that come with the job because too often our perception of managing poor performance is clouded by thoughts of tense, uncomfortable situations that may result in finger pointing, anger and denial.
A simple guideline for managing poor performance with your staff can be summarised in three basic steps:
- IDENTIFY what behaviour is causing the employee to underperform
- CONFRONT their poor performance
- REDIRECT their behaviour to improve performance
Types Of Evidence On Poor Performance
Evidence can take many forms, but not all forms of evidence have equal value:
- Documentary evidence consists of paperwork or electronic recordings such as video or audio, for example, a timesheet or CCTV footage.
- Physical evidence consists of actual objects or things – for example, if the employee had incorrectly assembled a set of components, this might be shown as physical evidence.
- Testimony takes the form of statements from witnesses who have observed what the employee has done or failed to do.
- Hearsay evidence is information that has been reported to you by a third party.
If possible, try to find documentary or physical evidence, as this is much harder to dispute. Testimony is personal, it is more likely to be subjective or open to interpretation and therefore can be more easily challenged. Use of hearsay evidence should be avoided. If a third party’s evidence cannot be presented as testimony by a witness, you must observe the employee whose behaviour is causing concern and gather additional documentary, physical or testimonial evidence.
Uses Of Evidence
If you believe that you have to put yourself and your employee through an awkward and stressful event to effectively confront poor performance, you should tear down that perception of the process and reimagine it. The simple fact is that managing poor employee performance should not be a huge event; it should be quick and relatively pain free, for both the manager and the employee, and something that’s done incrementally at the first sign of any deviation in ‘expected’ behaviour. When poor performance goes unaddressed for long periods of time, as too often it does, it can become a major problem and manifest itself into a situation that can blow out of control.
Here are some of the ways evidence can be collected against a non-performer:
1. Performance Problems
Performance problems are normally manifested by errors, and can usually be proven by producing documentary or physical evidence. Before meeting the employee, gather copies of:
- paperwork or records illustrating what the employee did wrongly or failed to do
- productivity or accuracy targets or standards that the employee is expected to achieve
- any relevant performance agreements reached previously with the employee
- records relating to the impact of the error, for example, customer complaints or evidence of additional costs incurred as a result of the error
- details of dates, times, places and other people involved
2. Evidence of Misconduct
Evidence relating to misconduct such as bullying or theft can be more difficult to collect, since the spectrum of behaviours that could constitute misconduct is so wide. Furthermore, people often fall into the trap of disregarding minor misdemeanours in the hope that they will not be repeated. Often, however, they do recur, frequently with greater intensity than before since they were left unchallenged in the first place.
It is far easier and more effective to address problem behaviour sooner rather than later. The evidence you gather will clearly depend on the nature of the misconduct, but might take the form of:
- documentary evidence of errors (at this stage, it may not be apparent whether an error is the result of a performance or a conduct problem) or falsified records, for example timesheets, expense forms or target achievement records
- testimony, or witnesses’ observations, but you must remain cautious that such observations are personal and therefore may be subjective, so you should back them up wherever possible with documentary evidence as detailed above
3. Attendance Records
Attendance records are normally easily collected; the challenge in dealing with poor attendance lies in interpreting the records. Where an employee displays a pattern of unauthorised absence (for example, sick days that always precede or follow other scheduled time off such as weekends or holidays) you should be alerted to this as a possible problem. Keep a diary of employees’ absence periods; including sickness and holidays. Attendance problems may also take the form of poor timekeeping. As with absence problems, it is good practice to maintain a diary; then, when discussing the problem with the employee, you will be able to be precise about dates and times.
The Poor Performance Meeting
Depending on the severity of the problem, you may choose to hold an informal meeting, or a formal meeting. The quality of evidence that you collect should be just as strong for informal meetings as for formal ones. However, under statutory requirements, please note that written copies of any evidence should be given to the employee before any formal meeting.
Confronting Poor Performance
The Fortune Group identifies six rules a manager should observe when confronting a poor performing employee:
- NEVER CONFRONT IN ANGER: do not let this become an emotional situation. Do whatever you need to do to get your emotions in check before confronting; maybe walk around the block, count to ten or have a coffee.
- DO IT IMMEDIATELY: take however long you need to get your emotions together, but as soon as you’ve done that, confront the poor performing employee without delay. Failure to confront immediately is what causes so much angst around the idea of confronting poor performance. When you let inappropriate actions continue unaddressed for too long before confronting them, the situation can get out of control. When managers consistently confront immediately, at the first sign of a deviation in behaviour, the process of managing poor performance becomes painless – and potentially even gratifying!
- DO IT IN PRIVATE: this doesn’t automatically mean going into your office and shutting the door, just don’t do it within earshot of other staff. You don’t need to turn it into a big event. In fact, confronting poor performance can be done quite casually, for example, at the water cooler or while getting a coffee or even walking down the corridor. Many times, taking the employee into your office and closing the door can create a tense atmosphere – the same tension that has given such a stigma to the process of managing poor performance – before saying a word.
- BE SPECIFIC: use evidence and factual information to state your case and focus on behaviour. When you bring hearsay or impressions into the conversation, you can find yourself squabbling over details, no matter how big or small.
- USE DATA: just as you should be specific with factual information, support your assertions with data whenever possible. In the process of confronting, tell them what they have done, how you feel about their actions (concerned, disappointed, angry) and why you feel that way. It’s not unusual to feel anger, you can be human! If you’re emotionally invested in your business you’ll feel angry, and you have a right to feel angry….you just don’t have the right to act out that anger!
- BE CLEAR: do not confuse people by watering down the fact that this is a reprimand. Because they feel uncomfortable, managers will often end a confrontation with something like, “….but overall, you’ve really been doing a great job.” The problem is people choose to hear what they want to hear, so employees latch onto such comments and leave the meeting thinking they just got praised. So don’t confront and praise in the same interaction.
Collecting evidence is a vital part of addressing performance, conduct or attendance problems. Without evidence, any attempt to tackle problem behaviour will be based on allegations and opinion and could, therefore, be too easily disputed by the employee in question. While the nature, amount and quality of the evidence needed will depend on the problem and its extent, the data that you collect will help you to illustrate the problem to the employee and will provide you with a platform from which to plan and execute an appropriate performance improvement programme.
I hate being found wanting in the way I work and conduct myself. I honestly pride myself in having a track record of achieving objectives through high level interpersonal skills, outstanding organizational skills, meticulous planning and effective delivery of tasks. Are you?
So folks, DON’T EVER be found falling short of expectation.