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Managing Underperformance – Part 1 – Take a Step Back
By Sonya Buck, Australia



As an employer most of us dread having to deal with staff underperformance. Besides the time taken to focus on these issues, no one enjoys having to address employees on their possible shortcomings.

Underperformance can have a detrimental impact on the workplace, not just on productivity, but also other employee’s job satisfaction.  It’s important not to allow underperformance issues to escalate or carry on in the long term.

Before you can address an individual’s performance issues you need to look at your organisations systems, HR management processes and other factors which may impact performance.  

Are your employees aware of what is expected of them including the formal documentation?  If you are unhappy with a staff member and they don’t know what is required, it’s unfair to criticise their performance. 

It may seem to be adequate to hand a position description to a staff member when they commence, but what level of competence does each duty or task attract?  For this, you are going to have to be more specific.  For example, you will need to add details such as an expectation that the Accounts software system will be mastered within the first six months and all invoices will be processed by each month end.

Goals will differ and be will be set for certain roles; eg sales roles may include quantifiable sales targets.

Are your staff aware of your policies and procedures and any updates?   Staff must be familiar with these documents in any workplace.

Has the employee been given adequate training to successfully fulfil their role?  

The best way to get off to a good start when an employee commences is to create a training assessment document which identifies which areas they need to be trained. Make sure the document includes a plan stating the training required, the type of training that will take place and whether it will be carried out internally or by an outside organisation.  If their role changes over time, training reassessment is required.

Have you been giving regular feedback to the employee?  Before any issue becomes serious, it may have been addressed by giving continuous feedback.

When you are busy and under stress yourself, it’s easy to just label a certain employee as hopeless or incompetent.  You may wish to consider the staff member may be experiencing personal or financial stress at home or mental health issues.  Mental Health Australia reports that 20% of Australian’s may experience mental health issues in any given year, therefore this problem cannot be discounted.    

It’s a difficult subject to raise, but do you have an unintentional bias against a certain employee?  We are all just human beings and we do get along better with some people than others for whatever reason.  This is such an important factor when assessing performance and in particular, during any regular performance review.

Before you address employee performance issues, take a step back and look at your workplace practices before you tackle this difficult issue.  There may be particular circumstances which are impacting a staff member’s work. 

In Part 2 of this article we will discuss identifying underperformance.