How to Deal with Poor Performers and Non Performers?

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How to Deal with Poor Performers and Non Performers?
Belinda Coetzee, Analyst, South Africa, Member
How does one manage poor performing employees and how do you deal with someone that comes to work that is not productive at all (being drunk, hangover)? They claim that they work for that matter.
Do you send them home? Or do you keep such person at work?
How do you handle them if you keep such employees at work.

Short Guide to Dealing with Poor Performance of an Employee
Jaap de Jonge, Editor, Netherlands
Good question! Last week we focused on improving the performance of employees who are doing just fine in their complex jobs. Handling a situation of poor performance by an employee in your team is a different, yet equally important, and complex management skill... What are the main steps and issues?

First of all: Don't jump to conclusions, quick fixes or actions. Start with a personal meeting and actively listen to what the employee has to say about the situation. Avoid making assumptions. Ask questions instead, like if there any special personal circumstances? Examine the issues and concerns the employee brings up.

Determine if you’re dealing with a consistent or temporary non-performer. Is she (he) currently overloaded or stressed but normally a good, performing employee?

Then perform a brief diagnosis of the reasons for the poor performance by assessing what caused it. There are typically 2 main causes of poor performance of an employee (apart from the 0. PERSONAL OR TEMPORARY circumstances) and you need to apply situational management to them:
  1. COMPETENCE / ABILITY. This includes a person's aptitude (natural ability to do something), and also any training or learning resources the person received. Typical indicators of low ability are:
    - Low aptitude (natural ability to do something)
    - Low intelligence
    - Low skill level
    - Low knowledge level
    - Difficult or complex tasks
    - Poor performance despite of strong effort
    - No or little improvement over time
    - Was assigned to a too demanding job after hiring or was promoted to one later on

    Now that you know the reason(s), you can try to enhance the person's cabilities. If the performance gap is not too big, consider providing extra help, training, coaching, reassigning him/her. If the gap is too big or nothing else works, be ready to let the person go. That could be better for your team and organization. After all, holding onto an underachieving employee may result in a ripple effect of negativity, low moral and quality of work which may demotivate others. Ensure timely assistance of HR / legal.
  2. MOTIVATION. The commitment and desire of the person to perform and improve.

    If the motivation level is low, you should first provide good and clear feedback about it, so the person understands your opinion and that improvement will be needed.
    Also you might set more detailed, clear and SMART performance goals, and/or provide regular assistance or coaching (either by yourself or by someone else).
    You could create and agree upon a performance improvement plan or ask the employee to create one.
    Follow up and monitor the progress.
    If the motivation level is extremely low or if there is not enough improvement, you'll have to be ready to let the employee go.
A final tip: Keep records during the whole proces described above, in case you need evidence later on.
Hope this is helpful... Any builds?

Cultural and Legal Aspects of Poor Performing Employees
Norman Dragt, Netherlands, Member
As Jaap de Jonge nicely summates you can do a lot about poor performance. As an extra you may want to look at: the CULTURE within the department the person is under performing. It could be that colleagues are purposely undermining the person's performance.
As for the Netherlands, and probably most European countries, JURISPRUDENCE is rather clear about the possibility to let go of under performers. You need proof of your own actions to improve the performance. Judges have set the bar rather high for employers that are not in any form of financial problems or can not proof that the performance of the under performer is a threat to the financial health of the organization. You will need to proof that you did all the things Jaap de Jonge wrote, including evaluating the development of the under performer, and giving the opportunity to improve after each evaluation, before a judge or the unemployment office UWV, will allow an employee to be fired.

An Inside Out Approach for Poor Performers
srinivas, Lecturer, India, Member
Irrespective of the job that is being performed, it is clarity in the inner being that is responsible for improvement of the focus levels... If one were to improve on that aspect, then performance levels will improve naturally I suppose.
Probably the ways and means to improve on the clarity of inner being need to be provided to the people who are considered to be not so good at performance.

How to Deal with Poor Performers and Non-performers
Graham Williams, Management Consultant, South Africa, Premium Member
I resonate with both Jaap's response and that of srinivas.
There are a myriad of causes from self-abuse, wrong placement, home unhappiness, under equipping, and reasons extraneous to the actual work (for example reaction to an organisations response to a social/ community issue...
Our usual Western 'left brain' goes straight to confronting the ISSUE, analyses, diagnosis, solution, implementation (goal clarification, training, firing, pep-talk, assigning a coach, documented monitoring) so we "manage" the situation. In addition, a 'right brain' response may include:
  1. Allowing the immediate team to fix things as they are accountable and responsible for team performance made up of its members;
  2. Respect the person as being above the issue (Re = again, and Spect = see) and search for the wounded inner child and latent potential by coming alongside, unfiltered listening, support, perhaps trusting that the person is capable of fixing things themselves - perhaps both?
So the real question for leaders may become: Given the seriousness and urgency of the situation and wanting what is best for the organisation and the person, what is the right balance of 'left brain' and 'right brain', task and relationship, discipline and compassion to call upon?

Redundant Appraisal Mechanisms
Debashish Banerjee, Turnaround Manager, Kenya, Member
@Jaap de Jonge: in contemporary situations, performance appraisals are routinely real time with strong quantitative measures built into the matrix. For example, Balanced Scorecards can factor financial performances of organizations with decisions and outcomes of actions across functional domains. The appraisals are essentially integrated through the loci of the critical path to growth in revenues and margins. Consequently, old school thought processes of dealing with so-called poor performances are redundant.

Redundant or Not
Norman Dragt, Netherlands, Member
@Debashish Banerjee: It is true that we can break down performance appraisal to the level of 'what will be the result for profitability'. However only a handful of employees will like this approach. Most employees and companies will want an approach that is more respectful and humane. An approach that will create goodwill and respects the employee as a partner with responsibilities and the ability to carry those responsibilities.
So as a manager it might be smart to breakdown the behaviour down to the benefits for BSC factors, but that should be used to motivate the treatment of the situation of performance improvement with respect and dignity.

Risk Management in Case of Poor Performers
Helen Strong, Business Consultant, South Africa, Member
Totally agree that the situation needs to be handled with an evidenced approach and respect. However while that is happening one has to make sure there is a plan B in place to deal with performance lapses. No sense in losing customers and turnover while an employee is finding him/herself again.

What if a Non-performer Retaliates and Disagrees?
Kathleen Tan, HR Consultant, Singapore, Member
If we encounter a denial of non-performance, we are unable to have a positive outcome. Wonder how to handle the non-performer when each feedback session becomes an attack and deteriorates the relationship instead of improving it?

What if Non-performers Retaliate and Disagree?
Graham Williams, Management Consultant, South Africa, Premium Member
Good question @Kathleen Tan! The same question arises in a number of situations, for example when activists clash with those they are trying to shift, with teenage children being corrected, within marriage or relationships at large...
Abrasive, confrontational behaviours don't lead to a positive outcome... Skills at handling the non-performer or poor performer certainly include assertive communication, an ability to separate singer and song (person and issue), and a recognition that the term 'feedback' implies a one-way message...

Procedure to Address Retaliating Non-performers
Norman Dragt, Netherlands, Member
@Kathleen Tan: One possible approach to non responsiveness to feedback about performance, is asking questions and having answers ready if the answers by the non-performer are negative.
Of course there will be non-performers who will put the problem outside of themselves. But that should not be seen as an action to avoid change, but as sign of feedback and motivation. An employee who sees problems that cause his under performing can often become demotivated if addressing those causes is not possible or not answered, because the organization feels threatened by the feedback.
Only if you have addressed the negative answers and the demotivating organizational reaction you can conclude that the employee is not willing to change. If that happens and (at least in my country) you have a clear file of all your actions, which you shared with the non-performer and had him or her sign, you can start a procedure to dismiss.

Remedial Measures for Poor or Non-Performance
OSHUN, GRACE OKAIMA , Lecturer, Nigeria, Member
The first step is to have a chat with a worker who is considered a poor performer or non-performer in order to establish the cause of his poor performance.
It may turn out to be due to personal problems. In which case, he should seek professional help.
If it turns out that the goals of the organisation have not been well articulated or that he has problems with his teammates, steps should be taken to straighten things out. He may even require retraining.
If all possibilities have been explored to no avail, he may have to be relieved of his job instead of becoming a liability to the organisation.

Managers Need to Be a Coach!
Sridhar Gopal, Management Consultant, India, Member
I generally like to believe that there is an unwritten professional commitment between employers and employees or for that matter managers and her team members - “You take care of me and may expect the same from me too”. So initially there is an equal responsibility between the employees and the manager.

When a team member(s) isn't doing well, I would step aside as a manager and put on a cap of a coach, schedule a few chat sessions (I didn’t say meeting!) to understand the situation he is in.
Amidst other things, I would focus on issues like:
  • Competency needs of work and matching strengths.
  • Personal issues blocking the work at hand - satisfaction levels of pay, offers elsewhere, health, family etc.
  • Personal motivation levels - issues with leadership and peer relationships.
I'd conclude the process by outlining what could best work for her/him if has to move on.
My 2 cents there!

Poor Performance and non-Performance can also be Caused by Other Reasons
Lawrence Gqesha, Analyst, South Africa, Member
The major problem in the South-African context between employer and employees is trust and there are other major issues in terms of race, gender, culture etc. I am not saying all the employers and employees behave this way, but research studies are showing that lack of trust among employees quickly leads to non-performance or poor performance. Employees tend to react very negatively in this situation and it also contributes to bad worker - employer relationships which leads to victimization and other negative practices.

What if MANY Employees are not Performing Well?
Jaap de Jonge, Editor, Netherlands
@Lawrence Gqesha: Thank your for clarifying the South-African situation.
You are right to argue that if there are are more/many employees that are not performing like they should, you need a different approach than the one I described.
My "@Guide to Dealing with Poor Performance of an Employee" is mainly helpful for INDIVIDUAL cases of non or poor employee performance.

Responding Rationally to 'Poor Performance'
Maurice Hogarth, Consultant, United Kingdom, Premium Member
Agree with all the responses. We should start by considering if the poor performance is a matter of:
  1. Competence i.e. the person has not been briefed/trained?
  2. A change of behaviour in an otherwise competent performer?
  3. They just do it differently from how you (their line-senior) would do it?
  4. Inappropriate behaviour of the line-senior
  5. Inappropriate operational situation (weaknesses in: procedures / standards / atmosphere / environment) that hinder rather than: help engender, support, give recognition for, -good performance.
So we should ask pertinent questions to discover the root cause of the actual behaviour (of individual or group) as a deviation from the expected/desired behaviour.
Remember the one thing that motivates EVERYONE is the satisfying of their need for a sense of self-worth.
Regarding drunkenness / poor time-keeping: every organisation needs a policy on the response to such behaviours so that firmness and fairness are seen as standardised. Assume that once is "accidental", twice is "coincidental" and thrice is "deliberate" and have the appropriate responses (NOT reactions) known, understood and accepted.

How to Deal with Poor Performers and Non-performers
Graham Williams, Management Consultant, South Africa, Premium Member
Was it Rosdenberg in the 60s who developed nonviolent, compassionate communication? I believe that his framework, steps and lessons are helpful, no matter how tough the interpersonal issue may be...

Poor 'Soil' ⇨ Poor 'Seed'
Maurice Hogarth, Consultant, United Kingdom, Premium Member
If the 'organisation entity' is the 'soil' and the individual the 'seed': poor soil cannot enable a good seed to flourish, &c. People CANNOT work better than their line-senior and/or operational situation enables them to. So the 'poor' performance of the subordinate is, in many cases, the direct consequence of the poor performance of their superordinate (their line-senior) or an inappropriate operational situation.
Remember: No one knows the job better than the person doing it. So, to enhance performance ask the incumbent what is the main thing inhibiting/restricting their performance; then enable them to remove it.

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