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How to Performance Manage Staff


For businesses in Australia, the Fair Work Ombudsman has released a formal document outlining the recommended best practices for Managing Under Performance.

It can be found here.

Work to a Standard

If an employer selects and sets a standard, a benchmark for how employees will perform and how they will be performance managed, they benefit from more motivated staff who are and know how to perform at their best.

It would come as no surprise, that when issues underlying bad performance are not addressed it can lead to a toxic and otherwise disruptive work environment. One that benefits nobody, employer included.

Setting a standard and using best practices to address these issues approriately and with sentivity ensures a healthy and productive workplace.

By choosing a best practice and sticking to it, employees know that they will be treated respectfully and with care, whilst also benefiting from a workplace that’s both comfortable and healthy.

Many best practices are available, the below outlines how to identify what underperformance actually is, then a plan on how to handle it when it arises.

Benefits of a Standard

Having a standard brings with it many obvious benefits. A better workplace, higher performance and ultimately higher productivity! Which should lead to higher profits.

More motivated staff, who feel empowered to do their job well makes for good business.

What’s perhaps not as obvious is some of the more longer term detrimental, compliance and potentially legal implications of not adopting a standard.

Without a standard, businesses can leave themselves open to litigation and compliance issues, when finally underperforming staff are addressed.

Defining Underperformance

The factors may be obvious to you, but not obvious to everyone else in your business. Underperformance can come in a number of different forms.

These include:

  • poor work performance, the failure to execute the duties of a role to the standard required
  • not complying with policies, procedures and rules
  • bad behaviour including harrassment, bullying or anti-social activities
  • negative actions that impact badly on co-workers

Why does underperformance happen

Clearly there’s all sorts of reasons why underperformance occurs. There’s no definitive list. However, more often than not the real reason is not actually what is presented on the surface.

There’s all sorts of reasons a person may underperformance.

These include:

  • employees don’t know the expectations and/or don’t know the consequences of missing expectations
  • differences with other staff or management on a personal level
  • skill or capability gaps, where the staff member doesn’t actually have the skills required for the role
  • the team member doesn’t actually know whether they’re doing a good job or not because there hasn’t been any feedback
  • a complete lack of motivation or perhaps low morale in the workplace
  • background personal issues either in a persons non-work life such as family issues, stresses or mental health issues
  • cultural differences and misunderstandings
  • bullying

Steps to manage Underperformance

So you’ve got yourself an employee who is underperforming. They’re not pulling their weight, not doing what they’re supposed to be doing and you need to rectify it. It’s dragging down your business and the other employees working around your team member.

Having a system like Impeccably for managing team performance, both positive and negative, is a good thing for employer and employee alike.

Even employers who are completely on-top of their game and have an entirely proficient, high performance team, know that the lack of performance management systems and processes can be detrimental to their business.

Any employee in a business will lose motivation for working in that business if they have to work with underperforming workmates. It brings the entire team down. Further to that, despite how it may appear on the surface, even poorly performing team members actually want to improve! They just often don’t know how.

Unfortunately, often negative attitudes and approaches to performance management bring down it’s effectiveness. Employees can see it as an attack, and employers can be fearful of using methods because they feel they lack the credibility or it may bring down the relationships they have with their team members.

However, addressing your approach consistently and fairly actually aides credibility and helps employers retain great relationships, earn valuable respect and improve their workplace culture!

Following our step by step guide below will help you avoid some potential pitfalls and help improve underperforming employees.

Step 1 – Assess the actual problem

Sure, you might know there is some sort of issue, but if you haven’t properly identified what the actual problem is, how can you manage it?

To understand what drives underperformance is key, as what might appear to be a simple problem on the surface, could actually be driven by many other issues underneath.

Take the time to specifically identify the problem. Document and clarify it, so it can be discussed objectively.

Step 2 – Review and identify the issues

So you know what the problem is and you can clearly articulate it, with facts and evidence.

Now comes the time to identify the issues that are associated with the problem and work to quantify them.
You should look at things such as:

  • whether the problem is serious and exactly how serious it is
  • how long the problem has been in existence for
  • what the size of the gap is between what’s required and what’s being delivered.

Knowing the quantum of these topics means that you can properly decide what the best course of action is. It also allows employers to objectively discuss both the problem and the issues surrounding it.

Step 3 – Hold a meeting to discuss the issues

Now that the problem has been documented, the issues surrounding it identified, it now comes time to have a formal discussion with the employee.

It’s important to notify the employee in advance of what the meeting is about and provide an agenda if possible, to allow the employee to prepare or bring any documentation they might feel is relevant.

When it comes to holding the meeting, it is worthwhile ensuring that it is held in a non-threatening and relatively comfortable environment that’s free from distractions. The location must be private, but don’t hold it over your desk with you sitting on the other side of it!

It’s time to hold a discussion with the employee to explain the problem you’ve identified, using the specific details you’ve collated. The main result of this meeting is that the employee clearly understands:

  • what the problem is that you’ve identified
  • exactly why it is a problem to the business
  • the impacts it has on the workplace
  • the reasons for the concern.

Most of all, you should, as the employer and leader, ensure that you’ve made clear the expected outcomes from the meeting. Ensure you don’t ‘leave anything hanging’, so that the employee knows exactly what’s expected as a result.

During the meeting, the employee should be given as many opportunities as possible to provide explanations and have their point of view heard. It’s a discussion you’re having at this point. Make sure the employee can be heard and that you’ve listened to anything they’ve had to say, whether you agree with it or not.

Sometimes these discussions can be difficult, so to smooth things over to begin with, it can be very worthwhile highlighting positive topics and concepts that the team member has displayed.

Remember when holding your meeting that you must:

  • objectively discuss the issue, not the person
  • work to uncover all the possible reasons why the issue exists
  • use facts and clarify details
  • adopt a relaxed demeanour and stay positive
  • always provide a summary to validate your understand of what’s been said.

Remember also to be aware of the trap of discussing any shortfalls negatively. Make sure that your employee:

  • knows already what the task they are being required to do it
  • has had ample training and been shown how to do it
  • can clearly understand what the gap is between expectations and reality.

Step 4 – Develop a solution collaboratively

It should come as no surprise to anyone, that a solution that has been arrived at collaboratively by both parties will be much better adhered too by both parties! Therefore, where-ever possible it’s best to come about a solution to the problem with the employee, not in isolation.

When coming to a solution, it’s important for a manager to:

  • ask questions that help explore concepts and create new ideas
  • do their best to highlight the common interests of both parties
  • stay on track and not deviate from the discussion at hand
  • make efforts to focus on the positive elements as well as negatives
  • be available to offer assistance in the form of training, mentoring and overall support.

The primary outcome of this meeting should be an action plan. The action plan should outline the steps to be actioned by both parties to create the positive solution. In some circumstances this is called a performance agreement, other times it is simply an action plan. A performance agreement is often considered more form. Such a plan should:

  • be clear on the milestones that should be reached as an outcome of the plan
  • cover, once again, the responsibility of the employee in their role
  • contain training and support materials
  • include the timeframe during which the plan is valid. A timeframe is vital to ensuring the plan can be measured.

It is wise also too set the next meeting date to follow up on the progress of the plan. This meeting is vital to monitoring the progress of the employee against what they were expected to be doing. It will also allow discussion times for both parties.

As an employer it’s always wise to keep good written record not only of the action plans but also the discussions held. These will help in recalling any discussions that may need to be revisited with the staff member but will also provide backup and evidence should further legal proceedings take place.

Step 5 – Continual Performance Monitoring

Sure, you’ve had the discussions but now it’s time to monitor what happens on-going. Heading back to the ‘day-to-day’ can often mean a loss of focus by both employer and employee.

Ongoing performance monitoring also a great opportunity to provide support and encouragement.

If you start to see positive performance improvements, it’s important not to forget to hold the meetings on-going! Holding continual meetings will provide opportunities to praise improvements and perhaps even give chances for growth. It provides both parties the opportunity to discuss their point of view, providing feedback either positive or negative.

Sometimes more serious actions need to be undertaken. If performance doesn’t improve, some sort of counselling or training may be required, failing that it will be necessary to issue formal warnings. Clearly, if improvement doesn’t improve it can result in termination of employment.
Terminating a staff member
When an employee doesn’t improve their performance to meet the required standard, terminating their employment may be required.

As an employer it is important to be fair and reasonable when you’re terminating an employee. If you’re being harsh or perhaps unjust, you may be liable for legal proceedings under local laws.

Generally if termination is based on fair reasons with ample warning, most employers will be covered.

Typical Performance Issues

Underperformance can show up in any number of different ways! There’s no simple way to define it nor the issues that it creates. Rather, you have to keep an eye out for typical performance issues that you might have seen before.

Once you know what these typical issues are, you can then apply the methods you’ve seen work before, or perhaps best practices, to try and alleviate the issues.

Here are some typical performance issues, their causes and what you can do about them.

Unsatisfactory Work Outcomes

Typical Issue:

  • Your employee doesn’t do the work as required, they appear either lazy or apathetic.
  • Your employee seems not to understand what the job requirements are and won’t take directions.

Potential Causes:

  • How you’ve designed the Job and what’s expected
  • Your employee isn’t the right fit for the Job
  • Some personal issues external to work.

Suggested Actions:

  • Start with an informal performance discussion
  • Make sure you’re really clear about what’s required and the performance level needed.
  • Outline the contribution the team member is making to the business and what’s expected of that contribution.
  • Seek to find out what in the work your employee is interested in and attempt to grow that area.
  • See if the employee might fit somewhere else in the business better, if that happens to be possible.
  • Suggest and/or provide an external counsellor if it’s personal issues impacting the employees performance.

Won’t take direction

Typical Issue:

  • Your employee won’t follow any directions you give them or do the job right.

Potential Causes:

  • Perhaps they don’t understand what they’ve been told
  • They may not have the ability to do what’s being asked of them
  • Maybe there’s personal issues impacting their ability to perform.

Suggested Actions:

  • As always, start with an informal performance discussion
  • Explore some training and skill development options, particularly if there is a clear lack of skill in an area
  • If nothing else works, start formal performance management procedures.

Acknowledging Underperformance

Typical Issue:

  • Your employee doesn’t see or agree with the fact that they’re underperforming.

Potential Causes:

  • It could be possible that the performance issues haven’t been explained properly
  • Maybe you’ve not undertaken the necessary performance management procedures
  • Your employee simply doesn’t accept your assessment of their performance.

Suggested Actions:

  • Revisit the expectations and requirements of the role they’re in
  • Use evidence to outline the performance shortfall, then use that same evidence to illustrate the negative impact this has on the business
  • If nothing else works, start formal performance management procedures.

Work not completed as required

Typical Issue:

  • Your employee isn’t completing the work to the required standard.

Potential Causes:

  • A lack of skills required
  • A lack of knowledge of the requirement
  • A general apathy to what they’re doing.

Suggested Actions:

  • Look at possibilities for training and development. Simple courses could bring the team member up to speed.
  • If the skills aren’t developed from training, consider reassignment of duties, or putting the team member into another area of the business.
  • If nothing else works, start formal performance management procedures.

Cynicism and Negativity

Typical Issue:

  • Your employee is typically cynical and is bringing negativity into the workplace.

Potential Causes:

  • Maybe they’re disillusioned with what they’re doing
  • Perhaps they’ve lost trust in the management team or their workmates
  • They don’t understand the true value of what they’re doing.

Suggested Actions:

  • Work hard to build or re-establish a supportive team culture that’s based on mutual respect
  • Revisit the position description and seek opportunities to signify the value of the role to the organisation
  • Explore possibilities for career growth and change for the team member.


Typical Issue:

  • Your employee is absent often and regularly, without any cause or notice.

Potential Causes:

  • It’s possible that they don’t like what they’re doing
  • Maybe they have an issue with the management team and are scared to approach them
  • Often personal and home life issues are a bigger impact on this topic.

Suggested Actions:

  • Attempt to identify the real reason for the absenteeism
  • Look at what is causing the absenteeism and look to either redesign the job role, change arrangements or assist in caring for health issues
  • Ensure you re-establish and reaffirm attendance expectations.

Recommendations Checklist

  • Have your Job Descriptions clearly outlined
  • If you see any problems, identify and outline them quickly
  • Make sure you meet with employees regularly
  • Ensure team members have ample preparation time
  • Provide opportunities for training and support to team members
  • Give staff the chance to bring support people to meetings
  • Ensure performance meetings are held in comfortable and private locations
  • Be specific when your discussing issues with your team. Avoid being vague.
  • Make sure your employee has the chance to respond before you take action
  • Be understanding when you find out that your employee is suffering personal issues
  • Define the steps required to improve performance
  • Make a solution that both parties agree with
  • Write an action plan that is definitive, clear and easy to adhere to, with timeframes
  • Hold follow-up meetings
  • Keep excellent documentation
  • Ongoing monitoring of employee performance

One of the best ways to handle performance issues and generally to manage performance is to use systems. Systems such as JobScouts provide an incredibly easy to use platform that does a lot of the work for you!

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