5 strategies to manage poor performance at work

Sarah Tidey
February 22, 2017

In this post, we discuss strategies to manage poor performance at work. There is no doubt that managing an employee’s performance can be one of the most challenging parts of any manager’s role. Often by the time that the organisation’s formal performance management process commences, difficult and unproductive behaviours are already entrenched and the relationship between manager and employee has deteriorated. Productivity is low and patience is in short supply.

‘He won’t cooperate with me- he says that was never part of his job description.’

‘She says I have never had any concerns about her performance before.’

‘Once we had a great relationship but now he seems to hate me.’

These are the kind of comments we hear regularly from clients who call us in to assist when the performance management process falls apart.

5 strategies to manage poor performance at work

To prevent the situation from getting out of hand, there are five key strategies to manage poor performance by a member of your team:

1. Don’t delay

In many cases we see managers wait too long to raise performance concerns with an employee or put off delivering tough feedback. Opportunities for incidental or casual counselling sessions are missed. This can mean that the employee often has a false impression of how well they are travelling and so feedback about their poor performance comes as a shock.

In extreme cases, we have seen organisations decide it’s time for the employee to go – without having implemented any formal performance management process at all – which invariably ends in legal action for unfair dismissal.


2. Have tough conversations

Nobody likes being the bearer of bad news and so it’s tempting to soften the blow when giving an employee feedback about their performance. Lack of frankness or honesty does both the individual and the organisation a disservice. If you want your employee to have a genuine opportunity to improve, they need to know where their performance is lacking (with specific examples), what standard is required and there needs to be a two way conversation about how they can improve. Knowing how to have these tough conversations is a skill that can be learned and improved, but it requires practice.


3. Follow-through

So you have had the tough conversation with the employee and you have come up with a plan together as to how they will improve. This is the stage where things often fall apart if no one takes responsibility for following through.

It’s very important that there is a clear follow-through process which establishes:

  • What the goal is ( i.e.: to improve their report writing to the Industry agreed standard)
  • What the timeframe is for achievement of the goal?
  • How will you measure whether they have achieved the goal?
  • How regularly will you meet during the time for progress discussions?

Failure to follow up with an employee afterwards at regular intervals can lead to old habits resuming or for an employee to assume that they must have improved.

A clear and agreed process is also a useful tool that you can refer back to when emotions get high. If the individual involved fails to improve and you need to consider the next step, for example terminating their employment, that will be more straight forward if you can demonstrate that you gave the individual an opportunity to improve through a fair, documented process.


4. Document each step

The history of your management of an employee’s performance should be supported by a clear document trail. This doesn’t need to be an onerous completion of reports and forms. Clear diary notes that document meetings and emails confirming the content of conversations can also serve this purpose.


5. Improve your own performance

Finally, if you are not confident in this area and you have people management responsibility, then you need to improve your own performance! Successfully holding difficult conversations and managing poor performance is a learned skill that you can develop. Take our performance management course (see details below) or find a coach who can give you some professional development.

Nobody likes having to manage poor performance – but with a confident and clear approach you can ensure the process is constructive, respectful and hopefully, successful.


Master the performance management conversation


If you would like to improve or refresh your skills in this challenging area, then come along to Worklogic’s upcoming course on Performance Management in Melbourne on 9 March and Sydney on 15 March. This course will help you master the art of the performance conversation: listening, negotiating, and giving both positive and negative feedback about performance and planning for the future. Learn how to give honest feedback in a respectful way – and in a way that neither party will dread or regret! If you have a group of people managers that could benefit from boosting their skills in this area, we can also conduct this course in-house. Contact Worklogic’s training co-ordinator Danielle Calder for more information.


About Sarah Tidey


Sarah TideySarah Tidey has been a consultant with Worklogic for six years, with a focus on workplace investigations and reviews as well as training and policy development. Sarah gained a comprehensive understanding of risk management and people management from fifteen years’ experience in the legal and financial services sectors. Sarah applies strong analytical and communication skills in workplace investigations and training.

Worklogic offers a range of programs and in-house training to help organisations build a positive work culture and reduce workplace conflict. Please contact Sarah via email or give her a call on (03) 9981 6500 for a confidential discussion on strategies to improve the way your organisation manages poor performance.

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