Managing under performance in your team

managing under performanceUnder performance is often like paint that has faded in the sun…when the colours just aren’t as bright as they used to be. Under performance is not always obvious, until you take a step back and look at the whole scene to see where the sharpness, brightness or colour should be!

At Jaluch we’re seeing an ongoing uncertainty amongst managers about how to deal with performance issues. Is it poor performance, under performance, gross incompetence or perhaps even belligerence?

Here we take a look at performance management, giving you a few pointers and tips.

How do you define performance issues?

Poor Performance: when someone does not have the skills, knowledge or experience to do their job properly or well.

Under Performance: when an employee has the skills to fulfil their role but is unable to apply them (think of an athlete who has done all the training but can’t produce the results of race day).

Gross Incompetence: this is behaviour in the workplace that is not deliberate or wilful (i.e. not misconduct), but that nevertheless has had serious consequences. (think of a pilot who is fully experienced and qualified but who misjudges the end of the runway).

Belligerence: this is childlike workplace behaviour. It is, in fact, misconduct, rather than a performance issue. At a low level, it could be eye-rolling, or pouting when things go wrong; but it can escalate into tantrums and outbursts, and create an unpleasant, or even hostile, work environment.

Misconduct vs Performance: misconduct is about actions that are wilfull, lazy or intentional – actions which are entirely within the control of the employee. In contrast, performance is about behaviours that are not within their control.

What is Performance Management?

The aim of performance management is to provide the employee with the tools and support to improve their performance and succeed in their role. It is ultimately a positive process to help the continuous improvement of the business and your employee’s own skills, behaviours and contribution.

Unfortunately, “performance management” is often seen as something negative, that both the manager and individual approach with a heavy heart. It is often only thought of as the process followed when there is a performance issue, not in its wider context.

When it comes to tackling a performance issue, there is no magic wand you can wave to see a miraculous change overnight. The key to successful performance management is to have a process that is fair, consistent and transparent. It does require commitment and time on the part of the line manager; but done well, it should result in a loyal, motivated and productive member of staff, who will be making a valuable contribution to your business for years to come.

Another important key to successful performance management is to ensure that what you are doing is genuinely managing performance! If you are in fact managing misconduct using a performance management process, then it will always feel like an uphill battle and a drain on your time. If you don’t fully understand the difference between the two (performance and misconduct) the Jaluch team will be very happy to support and guide with any ongoing issues you are facing.

Performance Management – Step by Step

First off, you need to decide what you are dealing with – if it’s a matter of poor performance, rather than misconduct, then you need to follow the step-by-step procedure set out in your employee handbook or in line with ACAS guidance.

For poor performance and under-performance, you need to follow that well-trodden procedural path of regular meetings, objective setting and reviews.

First off, you need to gather evidence to demonstrate the performance issue to the individual. Any conversation about performance is emotive, and many employees will immediately feel criticised and defensive. By having information and examples to hand, it will make it easier for you to be clear, and for the individual to better understand the situation. Don’t store up concerns until the annual appraisal meeting, instead discuss them as they arise.

Start with an informal meeting with your employee to highlight to them that there are issues, the standards expected and the support that will be provided. This also gives them an initial opportunity to discuss any problems they may be having that could be affecting their work performance.

If, after this initial informal meeting, you do not see any improvement, the formal process commences with a written invitation to a formal performance management meeting. This meeting may result in a first written warning being issued, and clearly stated objectives being set. After a reasonable, and defined, period a further formal meeting will be held to review performance – at this meeting, a final written warning may be issued. After another formal meeting, a dismissal can occur if performance has still not improved to the required standards.

If in doubt about the process, whether you can start at step 2 of the process as you can with misconduct etc or if you would like a script for a meeting you have coming up, please call one of our consultants to talk over your situation.

An exception to the Step by Step Approach

The only exception to this step-by-step requirement is for a finding of gross incompetence, where an employee could be dismissed within a few weeks. However, it is not as simple as it sounds and should not be used without considerable thought. You can read much more about gross incompetence in an earlier edition of our Blast here.

If it’s a matter of belligerence (which, as we said above, is in fact misconduct rather than performance), especially if it’s more than the odd eye-roll, such as rude or obnoxious behaviour, then you need to ask the individual to stop. As with a child having a tantrum, the best way to deal with their behaviour is to:

  • Stay calm – be the grown-up and lead by example, rather than descending to their level.
  • Discuss the issue in private – don’t address it with an audience in the heat of the moment; instead, ask them to come and have a chat.
  • Give them a chance to explain themselves – often putting it into words, allows the individual to see that they have behaved unprofessionally.
  • Set clear boundaries – the clearest way for everyone to know the standards of behaviour expected is to set them out in a Company Handbook, but reminding an individual of expectations through ongoing feedback is effective too.
  • If their outbursts are part of a continuing pattern of disruptive behaviour, encourage others not to engage when they occur (just as with a toddler tantrum) and then escalate the matter to a formal performance or misconduct procedure (depending on the root cause of the belligerence).

Unchecked or ignored, the belligerent employee can create a hostile and disrespectful work environment that then affects everyone.

Dismissal or an Alternative?

Belligerence aside, if you reach the point, where the individual’s performance just does not hit the mark  (despite good opportunity and support for them to improve) and you feel it is unlikely to improve, then you could consider offering them an alternative role (a demotion or change of duties) within your business to avoid a repeat of the performance issues experienced. But we know that this can often not be a practical option, especially for an SME.

In which case, with no performance improvement, you will be deciding to dismiss the individual on the grounds of capability – this is one of the five fair reasons for dismissal.

But do they get paid notice if they are dismissed? The answer is ‘yes’ for all performance-related dismissals, although we recommend you take specific advice if dismissing for gross incompetence.

Just as an aside….are you familiar with the Peter Principle?

A real everyday problem of performance management stems from the fact that competent highly performing individuals are often promoted into positions that are subsequently found to be a ‘step too far’. Knowing our own (and our employees’) levels of potential and what our Potential or capability ‘ceiling’ is, is one of the hardest things.

The Peter Principle was a concept developed by Laurence Peter: people tend to rise to their level of incompetence. In other words, you can never really know when someone has reached their potential until they have been appointed to a role in which they are no longer able to perform as required.

Of course, one repercussion of this is that often managers have to manage individuals who used to be good and solid performers only for them now to be under-performing in a more senior role. Never an easy thing to do.

Food for thought and time for an audit?

So, have your managers got the tools for the task? Do they know how to conduct a performance appraisal, how to set objectives, and how to deliver feedback? Are they confident about how to turn around someone’s performance or hold their team to account? Is your performance policy and procedure fit for purpose? Does it give you a strong framework to improve performance, or is it below par? Perhaps its time you carried out a short audit to determine where your focus should be?

Otherwise, why not speak to us at Jaluch about training for your managers and/or first line HR staff; or ask us to review your employment policies so that they work for you. Get in touch!

Other support from Jaluch:

  • Template HR documents (letters, policies etc) for use when managing employees.
  • Training kits (managing performance, coaching skills for managers etc.) for when you want to roll some training out internally using your own HR or Training staff.
  • HR advice and support from the Jaluch team (disciplinaries, performance management, employment tribunals.
  • Training delivered by the Jaluch team (investigations, performance management, accountability, managing discipline, leadership skills etc).

We really liked the pragmatic approach as well as having some fun; employee relations courses have too much focus on the law and procedures. Jaluch ensures there is a good balance between the two.”

Between us at Jaluch we have well over 100 years’ of HR experience, we deliver bespoke HR advice to over 300 clients in the UK and are proud to have won a plethora of awards. We would be delighted to support you, so please do get in touch

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Disclaimer: The information contained within this article is for general guidance only and represents our understanding of employment and associated law and employee relations issues as at the date of publication. Jaluch Limited, or any of its directors or employees, cannot be held responsible for any action or inaction taken in reliance upon the contents. Specific advice should be sought on all individual matters.

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