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Why being honest about underperformance is just the right thing to do.

26th October 2017

It still surprises me how many managers are reluctant to talk about under performance with their people. At times in our working lives we may not fully perform and there could be a few reasons for that. Something outside of work may be impacting on us in work. Maybe the role has changed, or we have been asked to do something new or different and we need some support. We may struggle with confidence at times and, let’s face it, we all struggle with motivation some days.

In my experience though, the most common reason for people not performing completely to our expectations is because they just aren’t aware of them. Sounds too simple doesn’t it?  But things change so frequently and unless we really do focus on being consistently clear about what we expect and need from our employees it can’t be that surprising when they don’t know sometimes.

Managers tell me it is unfair to move the goalposts too often. I disagree. The problem isn’t with moving the goals posts, the problem is with not telling people that they have moved, and where to. Business requires us to change direction and do things differently, and some times at quite a pace.  So it is critical we keep on top of it otherwise it is really no surprise people keep shooting goals in the same direction that they always have.

And I don’t mean annual or bi-annual updates, nor quarterly communications, or even team meetings. I mean proper one to one discussions about the role, the expectations and how they are performing. And not just at appraisal time, but as a continual discussion.

If you do have an underperformer, despite them being clear on your expectations, don’t leave it thinking it may get better. The longer you tolerate less than acceptable performance, the more acceptable that under performance will become. It becomes the norm. The longer it goes on the harder it will be to raise and address.

And anyway, don’t we all deserve a proper fair conversation when things aren’t going too well? That honest discussion aimed at helping us to get to where we need to be. Isn’t it less costly and painful to get non-performers performing? Haven’t we all got better things we need to be doing than going through that formal three stage process?

Don’t wait until you need to use your disciplinary policy. Talk to them immediately before it gets to the stage where you need to follow the formal process. The words disciplinary, investigation, hearing and appeal are so formal and have negative connotations. Rarely is it easy to get a ‘good feel’ outcome for both parties once you are in this process.

And don’t assume it is a training need – if you do it will cost you time and money and may still not fix the issue, leaving you even more sore as a result!

Have a chat, find the route cause of the issue, look for ways you can support and agree a plan. If it doesn’t give you the results you need, then you can go into your formal action process confidently.

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