Poor performance is a tricky issue to deal with in any workplace.

It not only affects individual productivity but also impacts team morale and ultimately, the organisation’s bottom line. 

As a business owner or HR manager, it is crucial to understand how to navigate these situations while adhering to relevant laws and policies. 

In this comprehensive guide, we will provide you with actionable steps and best practices to effectively address poor performance, ultimately fostering a more productive workforce.

But first, let’s start by exploring the potential causes of poor performance.

Understanding the Causes of Poor Performance

Poor performance can have several underlying reasons, and it is essential to identify them to effectively address the issue. You will notice none of these fall squarely at the individual’s feet, in fact nearly all poor performance can be attributed, at least to some degree, to a manager.

Some common causes include:

  • Mundanity: Employees will struggle to perform if there is a lack of variety or interesting work. Boredom kills motivation and therefore performance. 
  • Stress: Work should be challenging otherwise it wouldn’t be ‘work’. Once that tips from healthy to unhealthy, performance inevitably drops.
  • Lack of clarity or guidance: Employees may struggle with their tasks if they are unsure about what is expected of them or how to perform their job duties.
  • Lack of resources or training: Inadequate access to necessary tools, equipment, or training can hinder an employee’s ability to perform at their best.
  • Workplace culture: A toxic or negative workplace environment can greatly impact an employee’s motivation and performance levels.
  • Personal issues: Employees may be dealing with personal issues that may be affecting their performance at work, this could be personal, family or external, not just directed to the company.
  • Health or medical conditions: Certain health or medical conditions can impact an employee’s ability to perform their job duties effectively.

Identifying Poor Performance

As a business owner or HR manager, it is vital to have a system in place for identifying poor performance. There will always be dips in performance because people are people but the key is identifying when a dip is turning into a slope of the slippery variety. 

Early identification of the issues prevents performance from going off the proverbial cliff. These can include regular performance evaluations, tracking key performance metrics, or having open communication channels with employees. 

Some signs that may indicate poor performance include:

  • Consistently missed deadlines or targets: If an employee is continuously failing to meet their goals, it could be a sign of poor performance.
  • Decrease in productivity levels: A noticeable decrease in an employee’s productivity and output can also be an indication of poor performance.
  • Lack of attention to detail or quality of work: Poor performance can manifest in an employee’s lack of attention to detail or a decline in the quality of their work.
  • Disengagement and lack of motivation: Employees who are not performing well may show signs of disengagement with the work or their colleagues, such as frequent absences, lack of enthusiasm, low energy levels or a change in relationships.
Woman In Gray Coat Standing Near Green Plant

Addressing Poor Performance

Once poor performance has been identified, it is crucial to address it promptly and effectively. The key here is to remember people don’t come to work to do a bad job, generally speaking people don’t wake up and want to make someone else’s job hard. It is for this reason, addressing poor performance should always involve a two way conversation, asking questions to discover what the causes are and how you can help rectify them. 

Think investigator first, then guide, then manager.

Here are some steps you can take to address poor performance:

  1. Communicate openly: Schedule a meeting with the employee in question and discuss your concerns about their performance. Be specific about what areas they need to improve on and offer support or resources if needed.
  2. Set, reiterate or clarify CLEAR expectations: Clearly outline expectations for the employee and establish a timeline for improvement. Ensure their expectations are also managed.
  3. Offer support and resources: If an employee is struggling due to lack of resources or training, provide them with the necessary support and tools to help them succeed in their role.
  4. Create an action plan: Work with the employee to create an action plan that outlines steps they can take to improve their performance over a specific period. This plan should also include regular check-ins and progress evaluations.
  5. Document everything: It is crucial to document all meetings, conversations, and progress evaluations related to the poor performance issue. This will help you keep track of the situation and provide evidence if further action needs to be taken.
  6. Prioritise them: To effectively manage poor performance a supportive approach is needed and support has to be there when they need it. There is a need to recognise the effort and progress being made and help where progress is slow.
  7. Provide constructive feedback: Offer specific and actionable feedback to help the employee understand where they are falling short and how they can improve. It is essential to approach this conversation with empathy and avoid being overly critical or confrontational.

Dealing with Continued Poor Performance

Despite your best efforts and support, an employee may continue to perform below expectations. In such cases, it is essential to follow your policies and procedures for addressing poor performance. This may involve issuing warnings, implementing a performance improvement plan, or taking disciplinary action if necessary. 

It is also important to consider any legal implications and consult with an employment law expert if needed.

Assessing the underlying cause of the performance issue is crucial. Is the performance decline due to a lack of skill or a lack of will? Identifying whether it is a skill or will issue, it will help determine the appropriate course of action and the necessary support to improve performance.

In conclusion, understanding the causes of poor performance and having a proactive approach to addressing it can greatly benefit your organisation. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can effectively manage poor performance and foster a more productive and positive workplace for all employees. 

Remember to always approach these situations with empathy, open communication and a focus on improvement rather than punishment.