How to Identify and Manage Poor Performance  

Hi, I’m Nicola from The People Mentor, and today, I want to talk about how managers can identify and manage poor performance.  

It can be tempting to go in all guns blazing when you think someone is not pulling their weight. Maybe they are coming in late often, or they are not turning in work on time or that meets the standards you expect.  

You work so hard and this apparent ‘slacking off’ just makes you feel angry.  

But before you do anything, you need to ask yourself these questions to find out if what you are seeing is underperformance.  

Do you know what’s going on in your business? 

What I mean by this is do you know how long the average task takes? Do you know what the trends are in your business? Do you use any sort of time-recording app to establish priorities and plan what people are going to do in a day? (I’d recommend this by the way).  

Once you’ve established how long things take on average, if this is not happening, then you need to start asking the questions. Just arm yourself with the data first.  

The second question you should ask yourself is:  

How well do you know your people? 

Is it out of character for this person to be coming in late, or submitting work that’s not up to scratch? If so, there might be something else going on.  

This is why it’s important to have a conversation about what’s going on. Not rushing in like a bull in a china shop and making them defensive. Instead, ask questions like: 

How are you finding the work? 

Is there anything you’re struggling with? 

What’s going well, and what could be even better? 

This last one is more positive than asking what’s not going well. It’s a question that will encourage the team member to open up.  

Often, after speaking to someone, you’ll find that the issue is that there’s a learning need. Very few people underperform deliberately.  

I’ve been there. I remember once we had to learn how to code pensioners’ tax codes. They are very different to other people’s and I just couldn’t get my head around it. We had three days of training and still, it didn’t make sense to me. There was someone else who was in the same boat, thank God. We had another two days of training and I just about started to grasp it, though not really. So you see, I wasn’t underperforming, I just needed support and more training to get my head around something I thought was complicated.  

Luckily, I was able to express that and I got the help I needed, and that was because someone had a conversation with me. It’s so important.  

As a manager, it’s your job to go and see what’s going on.  

Why are jobs taking longer? 

Why is productivity down? 

Don’t be afraid to go and see.  

It might be the case that more training or a revamp of a system or process is needed to make things run smoothly.  

You need to check it out and have the conversations because the implications of not sorting it out might become far more serious down the line.  

It always goes back to having the conversation and digging deep to get to the bottom of what’s happening.  

If there’s someone on your team who you feel is underperforming, working slowly, and not doing so well, and you also have someone who’s doing well and doing tasks a lot quicker, and maybe someone who’s in the middle, it can be a great idea to buddy them up. 

What you will often find is that the faster people might have a better grasp of technology or they are doing the task faster because they are missing out on a step. Whatever is going on, people will be able to help each other out, learn from each other, and share information. Afterwards, have a conversation about what they learned, and from this, you, can learn about where your focus needs to be when it comes to improving things.  

When identifying and managing poor performance, you need to have your eyes open, ears open, and your door open.  

If you know that someone on your team is having problems at home and they are struggling, talk to them. Find out what’s going on and offer support.  

We all have dips in performance now and again, the important thing is supporting people through it until they get back up to speed.  

You can only do this though when you know your team and you take the time to be present. Otherwise, if you’re so busy and rushing from one thing to the next, you can miss those tell-tale signs that all is not well. 

When I was a manager, I used to walk the floor every day and say hello to people. I could often pick up on problems from the way people said hello or from their body language.  

Some people appreciated me asking how they were. I remember one person saying they had been really poorly and their line manager hadn’t once asked how they were.  

Of course, the increase in remote working brings challenges when it comes to performance management. If your team are working remotely, picking up cues from their body language is more challenging, but you might be able to hear changes in their tone of voice.  

When my team was working remotely, if someone sounded flat, I knew that’s when I had to pick up the phone and have a chat with them. I’d ask them how they were, what was good and not so good, and what could be even better.  

I used to have daily meetings with people where they could unburden themselves, which I think helped them stay on track.  

When I think about it, I’ve been pretty lucky. Most of my team members who had performance issues improved. What was happening was just a dip, and remember, it happens to us all. It’s about giving people support, not going in with all guns blazing.  

If you want people to feel like they can open up if they’re struggling, you have to create an environment where they feel like they can do so.  

I’ve seen first-hand what happens when this is not the case.  

When I was in area ops, there was an issue where someone had been hiding work in their drawer and not answering it. Their line manager deemed that the person should be sacked, and in fact, they resigned before they were fired. 

In my view, there must have been a reason why he was hiding that work and even though it wasn’t acceptable, there must have been something wrong with the culture. Why else would someone feel like they couldn’t speak up and ask for support? 

If I had been the manager dealing with it, I would have taken a coaching approach. I would have said,  

“ Look, we found this work, can you tell us what’s going on? It’s a serious issue, but what I want to understand is why you haven’t done it and how we can support you so it doesn’t happen again.” 

It’s an awful feeling to feel like you don’t have support, and I’m sure that many of you have been in that situation. I know I have. 

Pretty early on in my career, I had a piece of work to do and I didn’t know how to do it. I kept asking my manager for help and I kept getting ignored, she was always too busy.  

Instead of telling me to go to someone else who could help, she always said ‘I will get to you’, but she kept forgetting. I didn’t want to keep bothering her, so I just left the work sitting there.  

6 months down the line, that work that hadn’t been done became a major complaint. Because the work hadn’t been done, it caused a lot of other problems.  

So my advice to you is never to be so busy that people feel like they can’t approach you. You could be storing up a lot of trouble for the future.  

Identifying and managing poor performance is a challenge for managers.  

You’ve got to know what’s going on in your business and you have to know your team to establish if it’s really poor performance that you’re seeing, or if there’s a root cause that can be remedied like a training need or a clunky process that’s slowing things down.   

This means asking the right questions, using the right approach, and being confident enough to face issues like poor performance head-on.  

This can feel difficult, but it doesn’t have to be, with the right support.  

I’ve created an affordable, no-nonsense monthly membership for employees just like you who want to become more confident leaders.  

Go to The Manager’s Academy to find out more about the membership. In there you’ll find invaluable tips and advice, training, workbooks and templates, and support on those areas of leadership that often feel at best a mystery and at worst, demoralising and stress-inducing.  

I hope you’ve enjoyed this podcast and be sure to tune in next time for the next one in the series.  

This is The People Mentor, signing off.  

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