How to Manage Non-Performing Employees

dilbert-nonperformingA company in today’s competitive business environment cannot afford to ignore an under-performing employee without serious consequences, and must be able to manage non-performing employees effectively.

The consequences of failing to manage non-performing employees include:

  • lost productivity and efficiency
  • increased errors
  • dissatisfied customers
  • demoralizing strong performers
  • creating a culture of mediocrity
  • higher turnover as good employees leave

Managing the performance of your employees can be a challenge, especially if you have staff who continually fail to produce acceptable results. For some managers, it is easier to avoid having difficult conversations than to confront staff about their behaviour. Acting quickly and decisively to manage non-performing employees will ensure that the company maintains a high level of productivity.

Providing clear, objective and constructive feedback is the first step of managing under-performers. Giving your employees timely, respectful, regular feedback regarding performance concerns, how their behaviours impact the company, and what is required and expected from the employee going forward is important.

Sometimes, an employee is simply not the right fit for the role. In these circumstances, it may be best to part ways or to find another role in the company that is a better fit for their skills, interests, experience and qualifications.

At other times, some employees may be the right fit, but require more support and guidance to excel. If after providing regular constructive feedback, performance continues to be poor or does not improve to the extent required, more formal measures, such as creating and monitoring written action plans, may be required.

The purpose of a written action plan is to develop a documented record of the performance expectations of an employee and to clearly define the steps required to improve performance.

Preparing a Written Action Plan

The following recommendations and guidelines will assist you to prepare a written action plan to manage non-performing employees:

1. Compile documentation from past performance discussions

  • Gather together all your notes of past conversations you’ve had with the employee regarding their performance.

2. Prepare the written action plan

  • Include the following in a written document to be provided to the employee:
    • General description of roles and responsibilities
    • Specific areas where the employee is performing well
    • Specific areas which need to be improved and why
    • Expectations and standards required
    • Training required to improve performance
    • Support you will provide to help employee meet expectations
    • Time frame in which noticeable improvements need to be made
    • Follow-up you will provide to ensure performance stays on track
    • Consequences if behaviour does not improve

3. Meet with the under-performing employee

  • Have a private, face-to-face meeting with the employee to discuss your concerns.
  • Reiterate the discussions that you have had in the past regarding their performance and your expectations of their performance.
  • Convey to the employee that their performance has not improved to the level expected or required.
  • Explain that the next step is to document your specific performance concerns and expectations in writing so that it is clear what behaviours need to be improved.
  • Review the content of the written action plan.
  • Ensure that the employee understands the content and commits to making the changes necessary.
  • Listen to the employee’s feedback and make any adjustments necessary to the action plan.

4. Monitor and follow-up on the action plan

  • Written action plans must be followed-up. Following-up places importance on the issue. By following-up on progress, you show that you care about the employee and their performance, and that the issue is important to you. If you do not follow-up, it could appear as though you have forgotten or ignored the issue altogether.
  • Schedule a regular time with the employee to review performance, successes and challenges, as agreed in the written action plan. Determine if the actions identified for improvement have occurred.
  • Discuss employee progress directly with the employee, noting improvements made and areas still requiring attention.
  • Document performance progress and constructive feedback provided, as required.

5. Re-evaluate performance

  • The written action plan should include a time frame for review of performance.
  • Prior to the end of this review period, conduct a review with the employee to discuss their performance progress.
  • Hopefully, performance has improved sufficiently so as not to require continued performance monitoring.
  • If performance has not improved sufficiently, you will need to decide next steps which could include:
    • Providing an additional, updated action plan;
    • Moving the employee into another role which is better suited to their skills;
    • Providing additional coaching, training and mentoring; or
    • Terminating employment.

Typically, a written action plan results in positive outcomes only if an employee recognizes that behavioural changes are required and if he/she is open to the feedback, guidance and support. If they aren’t, it is likely that performance will not improve, at least not for a sustained period of time, and these additional measures will need to be taken.

Managing a non-performing employee is a process, not an event. Having one conversation regarding substandard performance is usually not sufficient. It is a reiterative process of setting expectations, observing behaviour and providing training and feedback.

Be timely. Don’t delay. Provide feedback as soon as possible after you become aware of the problem. Correct the behaviour as soon as possible in order to prevent the problem from re-occurring. Perhaps the role is not suitable to the employee’s skill set, in which case other actions can be taken.

Ultimately, you, as the employee’s manager, are responsible for setting expectations for performance. You need to ensure that your expectations are fair and realistic, and that you are evaluating employee performance objectively or against a set of realistic performance standards or metrics.

For human resources solutions on how to manage non-performing employees in your small business, please contact Vancouver-based Clear HR Consulting, or check out the Managing Employees module of our HR How-To Series for Small Business.


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