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Managing Poor Employee Performance at Work in a Constructive Way

In your role, managing poor employee performance can be one of the most challenging tasks you face. If some of your team aren’t performing at their best, it can bring down morale but also affect the goals of your organisation.

To avoid letting it bubble away in the background and prevent situations from getting out of hand, here are some strategies to try out to manage poor performance at work.

Person using a laptop to learn how to manage employee performance

Don’t Waste Time

As soon as you notice an employee is performing poorly, take action rather than waiting too long to raise concerns. Speaking up and delivering potentially tough feedback can help you solve their issues earlier. It also means an employee might have a false impression of how they’re doing and this conversation could come as a shock.

Voice concerns early so you can work together to fix any problems.

Prepare and Be Specific

In tough conversations like these, being broad won’t help. Be as specific as you can so gather notes or documents to show where the performance problems are. If they’re target-related, have the figures ready. If they’re going against your organisation’s culture code, have your policy on hand.

It’s just to make sure there’s no room for misinterpretation. When you have everything ready, you can send a clear message which can make the conversation more valuable.

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Outline the Outcomes

This doesn’t mean telling them the worst-case scenario if their performances don’t improve, but more along the lines of what you want to accomplish from the meeting or conversation. It isn’t constructive to sit with an employee and lecture them on what the situation could lead to. Instead, show empathy, explain that you’re concerned and this meeting is about you wanting to help them.

Showing you care can encourage employees to ‘buy in’ to what you’re saying. It's all about showing you want to work with them to improve, rather than dictating.

Soften the Message

Nobody enjoys being the bearer of bad news. When giving feedback or constructive criticism regarding their performances, try and soften the message while maintaining 100% honesty. It should focus on giving the employee a genuine chance to improve and it should also be a two-way conversation about how they can improve.

Knowing how to handle these difficult conversations is a skill you can learn and improve over time. 

Avoid Emotional Confrontation

Conversations about poor employee performance can be difficult, especially if emotions run high during the meeting. Do your best to avoid any emotional confrontation, even if you’re on the receiving end. Don’t accuse them of anything or show any threatening behaviour either as nobody can really benefit from that.

Stay calm in the approach and delivery. Who knows, maybe the employee will appreciate your management style by keeping things professional and showing you’re willing to help.

Understand the difference between assertive and abrasiveness.

Listen to the Employee

Although it’s important to get your message across constructively during this performance meeting, what’s equally as important is to listen to your employees. If a dip in performance has happened suddenly, it could be because of external factors such as their personal life.

It might only be temporary and before you know it, they’re hitting their targets again. Showing some understanding goes a long way as the meeting could end up being motivating and positive.

Focus on Your Tone, Body Language and Emotions

When it comes to having tough conversations like these, the way you deliver your message can sometimes be more important than the words themselves. Emotions are contagious so if you’re showing anger or being judgmental, your employees will focus more on that and less on your constructive feedback.

Discover why body language is so important in communication - plus examples!

Collaborate, Don’t Confront

Discussing poor performance at work shouldn’t be about telling an employee how to improve their performance. Flip it and ask them how they could improve their own performance.

It’s always better for an employee and manager to identify any problems and collaborate to come up with goals as opposed to it being one-sided. 

Learn how to give meaning to collaboration.

Find Their Motivation

It’s difficult to help an employee without understanding what makes them tick. What are their aspirations and goals? Where do they see themselves in 12 months? What more do they need from you for extra support?

Their responses should give you enough knowledge of their motivation and if they want to turn their performances around.

Reward Improvement

Talking to an employee about their poor performance is important. That difficult conversation can motivate employees to turn the situation around and if they do that, don’t ignore it.

Make a point of recognising improvement and appreciate them for their good work as well.

Act on Continued Underperformance

On the other hand, if underperformance continues then act on it right away. It not only establishes your authority but shows the seriousness of the situation - especially if they failed to act on their first meeting with you. It can also send a subtle message to others that being disengaged does result in repercussions.

Obviously, nobody wants to deal with performance problems but you never know when you could end up in that situation. The way you approach it is beneficial to you and your employees as it sets an example while also equipping you with the skills you need for difficult conversations in the future.

Be Prepared with our Communication Skills With Our Handbook

In our guide, we’ve covered the essentials of communicating with your employees. From enhancing communication within your team to public speaking and presentations, you’ll find something in there for your situation.

To get your free copy, click on the link below.

communication handbook for the public sector