Dealing With a Team Member With Performance Issues

Hi, I’m Nicola from The People Mentor.

In this series of podcasts, I want to share some practical tips and advice that HR managers can share with line managers.

Team and management issues clog up the desk of many HR managers when with the right support or HR training, they could be dealt with at the source before they take precious time away from those strategic HR tasks that really make a difference to the business.

Today, I want to talk about how to deal with a team member who has performance issues.

Talking to an employee about poor performance is a task that no manager relishes, no matter how experienced they are. It’s even tougher for managers who have found themselves in charge of a team and have no experience in having difficult conversations.

But as you well know, if issues are left unchecked, they become much bigger problems that can affect an entire team and as a result, the overall productivity and profitability of the business.

So how should a line manager deal with a team member who is having performance issues?

Well when dealing with any employee problem, the answer is always to be straightforward about what you’ve noticed. If an employee’s performance is falling short of the expected standard, this must be confronted as early on as possible before it becomes a much bigger issue.

Managers should meet with the employee 1:1 and discuss the issue, explaining how their performance is falling short of what’s expected. This discussion should be based on fact, not on opinion, and it should not amount to a character assassination under any circumstances.

If the employee feels attacked, they will get defensive, and the discussion is much less likely to be constructive.
Instead, managers need to ask the team member about their perception of what’s going on, so that the underlying cause of the problems can be identified. For example, is their persistent lateness down to having sleepless nights because there’s a new baby in the family?

Remember that team members are human too, and personal life can often encroach on their professional life.
The idea of this meeting is that the manager and employee discuss the issues and work together to find solutions. In an ideal world, a manager would highlight issues and then suggest how a team member might improve their performance going forward. The team member would then endeavour to improve within an agreed time frame for their own good and for the good of the business.

The sticking point is that when you’re giving an employee feedback, particularly when it’s negative, it’s not always going to be well received.

Maybe you’ve had a bad experience in the past where you’ve had to give negative feedback and it hasn’t gone well, or the team member has had a bad experience where a manager’s feedback amounted to a personal attack. It’s difficult for both sides.

But there’s a model that can make giving feedback a bit easier without it feeling personal.

The AID feedback model focuses on the employee’s performance, not on them as a person.
The AID acronym stands for:
Desired alternative action or behaviour

Here’s how you would use it:

Action is the step where a manager tells the employee what they’ve actually observed or noticed. This is not opinion, their own interpretation, or even worse, someone else’s interpretation, it’s fact. For example, the manager might say, ‘ I noticed that you came into the office late three times last week.’
They aren’t pointing the finger, they are stating a fact that can’t be refuted by the other person.

Impact is the step when the manager goes further than just saying ‘I noticed you were late.’ This is when they would point out the impact that this is having on the team, on them as a manager, and on the business as a whole. The manager could then share evidence of this with the employee. Maybe the lateness has caused the team to fall behind with a particular project and now it means that everyone is going to be extra stressed trying to meet a deadline.

Finally, we come to the desired alternative action or behaviour stage.
This is where the manager should work with the employee to think about how they can improve their performance. Involving them in finding a solution will feel more positive and empowering for them, and they are more likely to comply with any suggested actions.

Managers should discuss things like what needs to change going forward, setting SMARTER goals, and when the employee’s progress will be reviewed.

In many cases, the team member will strive to make the improvements that have been agreed on, but sometimes for whatever reason, the poor performance persists.

Now the manager needs to step it up a notch before the problem becomes more serious and damaging to the business.
This is when they should be clear about the consequences of ongoing poor performance. Managers need to be firm but fair and agree with the employee that they’ll review the situation again in a few weeks and if there is no improvement, they’ll be given a formal improvement plan. If there is no improvement following the introduction of the plan, the manager might communicate that there is a chance that the outcome will be dismissal.

The employee needs to be given the chance to improve, but the manager also needs to make sure the employee understands the seriousness of the performance issues.

If a formal performance improvement plan is needed, it should be sold to the employee as a positive thing rather than as a form of punishment. It can help team members set and meet performance goals and it can also signal to them that you want them to improve and stay with the business because you’re giving them the opportunity to address the issue and be better.

For a performance improvement plan to be effective, however, it needs to:

• Set clear goals that the employee can reasonably meet. There should be no confusion about what the employee needs to do to improve and meet the expected standard.
• Be a collaborative process between the manager and the employee.
• Be reviewed at regular intervals so that it’s clear whether the employee’s performance is improving.
• Identify any extra training or support that the employee might need so they can reach the required standard.
• Identify potential consequences if the expected standard is not met.

Having difficult conversations, especially around performance, can be a headache for any manager, and as the HR manager, if these aren’t dealt with at the team level, they’ll become your headache.

But where is the time to deal with those niggling manager and team issues that need fixing before they become a serious problem?

This is where I can help.

I know people issues need handling with care, and that you need someone firm but fair. Who won’t come in and point the finger in an already fraught situation, but who can uncover the real issues and come up with the solutions you need.

Get in touch to find out more about my Team Turnaround Package today.

• If you want line managers to feel competent and confident when dealing with difficult conversations, performance issues, and everything else that comes with managing people,
• If you want to free up your time to spend on the HR tasks that make a difference to the business,
• If you want to restore harmony in the workplace and stop directors breathing down your neck,
this package is just the solution you need!

I hope you got some useful tips in this podcast and I’ll see you again soon for the next in the series.
This is The People Mentor, signing off.

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