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Managing Under-Performers

Read in 5 min. Failure to deal with under-performance will lead to major team discontent and if under-performing employees are left to continue to under-perform then it will be the manager that is managed 'out of the business!'
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Allan M.

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Under-performers are present in every organisation and it is a challenge for the manager to deal with this under-performance situation. First and foremost, it helps enormously if the recruitment of individuals is first-class, as this minimises the chance that you will encounter under-performance. However, it is likely that in the life cycle of a manager, they will inevitably encounter and have to deal with under-performance on several occasions. Keeping an eye on everyone’s progress in the team is very worthwhile and regular reviews can catch under-performance at an early stage before it gets too difficult to treat.


Understanding the root-cause

Firstly, a manager must not jump to conclusions as to the cause of the under-performance. The causes may be numerous, ranging from a lack of ability to a serious personal issue. Always act on reason and not on instinct. Try to investigate the exact cause of low levels of performance and then apply interventions within your area of influence. Try using an investigative root-cause model such as CARERS (check www.pmcscotland.com for more details) and make sure that you investigate every possibility.

Multiple factors can lead to under-performance in an organisation. Experts point out that persistent under-performance can lead not only to failure in achieving set goals or objectives but in some cases can lead to extreme ill-health which has a major ‘knock-on’ effect in terms of motivation and productivity across the team.

Under-performance can also be a result of ineffective management where the manager is poor at setting and agreeing clear and specific performance objectives and guidelines together with not being an effective leader and communicator. So, be prepared to take a look at yourself as a manager before jumping to conclusions and perhaps blaming the individual, the company or the environment.


Motivating poor performers

It is necessary to tackle the under-performance issue at the earliest possible indication. Research suggests that the longer the under-performance is allowed to continue, the more under-performers can affect the other staff and the overall productivity of the organisation. This is a vicious cycle but it is important to give the under-performer time to improve with feedback and coaching. It may also be necessary to start developing a transition plan for them to move into another position or even out of the organisation if there isn’t sufficient improvement. The theme at this stage is one of ‘support for improvement’ and a clear and concise improvement plan must be put in place around the development areas that have been identified as the ‘root-cause’ of the under-performance. Regular reviews must be put in place and progress tracked carefully.


Managing of under-performers:

* Assess the reasons for low levels of performance through objective, precise and quantifiable feedback and investigation. Through conversations with the employee, rule out complications caused by illness or outside pressures. At no point of time the employee should feel that he is being victimised because of some personal reason. Maintain a professional attitude.

* Set achievable, clear and concise goals to raise the bottom line for the under-performers. They need to know the exact parameters of evaluation and performance measurement. Set clear guidelines about how their performance will be measured.

* Tackle the problems with a defined set of deadlines and realistic goals. Communicate clearly about the consequences if the person fails to improve.

* Lay out an improvement plan with the employee and follow up the execution with an objective evaluation.

* With those employees who have been top performers historically use good coaching skills to ‘take them back’ to when they were performing to a high level. What was it like to have been a top performer? What has happened between then and now to cause the drop in performance? What do they need to do to get back to that level?


The way under-performers are dealt with in the organisation will set an example for the other employees. If the under-performers show signs of improvement, the organisation should encourage such employees by giving then motivation in form of praise/recognition. If the individual is not showing any signs of improvement in the job then the step to move them out of the organisation is taken to set an example for others in the group.

The other employees will feel secure in the fact that the management gives the under-performers the benefit of doubt and helps them with training, mentoring and coaching, which ever is the most suited in every individual case. They will also realise and appreciate that if improvements are not made after support then any action that is taken to manage the employee ‘out of the business’ is justified and the correct course of action.

Failure to deal with under-performance will lead to major team discontent and if under-performing employees are left to continue to under-perform then it will be the manager that is managed ‘out of the business!’

This Article is authored / contributed by ▸ Allan M. who travels from Glasgow, United Kingdom. Allan is available for Professional Training Work both Virtually and In-Person. ▸ Enquire Now.

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