Addressing Poor Performance: Choices, Choices

Three_options_-_three_choices_schemeA supervisor becomes aware of a performance deficiency: but what to do next?

Depending on the circumstances, an employer may wish to address the issue informally, implement a performance improvement plan (PIP) or discipline the employee. Issues such as substance abuse or the possibility of an undiagnosed disability add to the complexity of adequately addressing a performance issue.

Managing performance involves managing expectations, both the employee’s and the supervisor’s. This includes communicating an employer’s expectations to an employee and reconciling an employee’s perceptions about performance with observable facts. However, a supervisor must be prepared to have a meaningful conversation (not a dictation) with the employee and to listen to the employee’s experiences, including any barriers to delivering the desired performance.

Because there can be no set roadmap on effectively managing performance, a step-by-step decision-making process should be followed to achieve the best possible results.

Address Performance Informally

If a supervisor takes the time to discuss openly a performance issue with an employee, often issues can be addressed effectively through informal means. For example, a supervisor may realize that a relatively new hire may not be aware of certain corporate policies regarding safety protocols, resulting in unacceptable workplace behavior. Additional training in this regard, coupled with targeted coaching, may adequately address the performance issue.

Implementing informal measures to ensure adequate performance may often yield higher engagement than choosing other methods. However, certain employees will benefit from a more structured approach to performance management.

Implementing a PIP

A supervisor addressing poor performance should provide an employee with clear, detailed and concrete information regarding an employee’s failure to meet performance standards. Trite advice (“Do better!”) or personal judgments (“You’re so lazy!”) tend to alienate, rather than engage, an employee.

However, even widely used performance review documents, such as a form that relies on numerical ratings, may fail to communicate precisely which employee behaviors an employer seeks to address.

Depending on the circumstances, an employer may choose to implement a PIP with a set schedule and specific goals. A PIP provides all parties with an action plan: agreed-upon expectations, regular meeting dates, an end date for compliance and signed acknowledgement from both parties.

Choosing Discipline

Sometimes, discipline may be the best method to address poor performance. However, some supervisors believe that disciplining an employee for performance issues may lead to more headaches. But the opposite is true.

Failure to adequately address performance deficiencies in a timely fashion may result in increased liability risks for an employer, inaccurate documentation and employment decisions that are difficult to defend.

Consistency in discipline is key. Once the decision has been made to discipline an employee, care must be taken to ensure that the type of disciplinary action being considered is consistent with comparable situations. For example, if one employee has received a verbal warning for being rude to a customer, then is it appropriate to terminate another for the same behavior?

For this reason, discipline decisions should always be subject to review before implementation.

We Chose a Solution. What Now?

Whatever management method a supervisor chooses, there is one constant: effectively managing performance means that the job is never truly done. This is not an item to be checked off on a list. Whether a supervisor chooses to provide additional coaching, implement a PIP or issue a written warning, that supervisor must continue to manage performance – on a constant basis – to ensure productivity, fairness and consistency.


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