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4 Ways to Manage Poor Performers

The most common question I get asked is about managing poor performing employees. Unfortunately, many HR people spend a good part of their day advising and supporting line managers on how to appropriately manage the poor performance or misconduct of one of their employees. Often the call comes well down the track, when managing the situation has become frustrating and stressful. The manager has almost always let poor performance continue for too long, avoiding difficult conversations and letting critical issues remain unaddressed.

The calls I receive from managers are often the product of this unnecessary delay. They ask me about the best way to dismiss the employee, but when I ask them what they have done so far to manage the poor performance, their response is often “nothing” or “we had a chat a few months ago”. Occasionally there have been conversations, but these conversations have almost always been informal, without any written record. This is a legal dispute waiting to happen if the manager decides to dismiss without a valid reason and fair process.

How To Address A Failure To Meet Expectations

When the circumstances demand that you address poor performance or behavioural issues, you’ll need to consider what is best for the business, but you’ll also need to consider what is best for the employee. There are four main ways of dealing with ongoing poor performance: 1) feedback; 2) counselling; 3) warnings; and 4) dismissal. Let’s look at each of these in turn.

1. Feedback

It is your role as a manager to provide regular and constructive feedback to your people related to their job performance, including everything from attitude to conduct. You should be in the habit of providing in-the-moment feedback, such as when you have read a report that has been submitted to you for approval. Provide feedback promptly and in a meaningful way so that the person clearly understands your expectations. This is best done by providing a specific example of what the employee has done that is not in accordance with the company’s requirements.

2. Counselling

When an ongoing performance concern is identified (e.g. regularly turning up late for meetings, ineffective communication with team members, failure to meet deadlines) counselling is a good strategy. This means sitting down with the employee and talking to them about your concerns, listening to what they have to say, clarifying expectations, and agreeing on a way forward. Counselling may include some type of performance improvement plan, which may include training requirements to improve the capability of the employee to perform their job satisfactorily.

3. Warnings

When performance has not improved even after regular feedback and counselling sessions, it is time to move to a more formal process, which involves setting clear performance expectations with strong consequences if the expectations are not met. This consequence is the direct result of poor performance or misconduct (not demonstrating appropriate behaviours). The most common consequence is the written warning (often enough to correct misbehaviour or poor performance), but consequences also include demotion and dismissal.

It is appropriate to issue a warning when informal feedback and counselling sessions have failed to improve performance. If misconduct or poor performance is serious enough to merit it, warnings are the appropriate response. There is no black and white here; it is mostly grey when deciding what the situation does or does not demand. This makes it difficult to give an example of the type of poor performance or misconduct that should always result in warnings or other forms of discipline. However, severe and regular lateness, rudeness to a customer, or an extremely costly error might make disciplinary action appropriate.

4. Dismissal

Dismissal will normally follow a disciplinary process that has not resulted in sufficient improvement. Or it may be the result of serious misconduct such as violence, theft, fraud, or sexual harassment. The decision to dismiss any employee requires thorough consideration of the legal requirements and risks associated with this course of action.

My best advice on managing poor performance is to prevent it by providing:

  • Clear expectations
  • Regular feedback
  • Training and development
  • Reward and recognition of high performance and the right behaviours
  • And finally, do not procrastinate


For further guidance on managing poor performance, please contact Harrison Human Resources 


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