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Everyone’s performance is improvable and the steps outlined above apply as much to high performers as to anyone else. But special action may be required to deal with people who do not meet expectations. When managing underperformers, this should be about ‘applauding success and forgiving failure’ needs to be remembered.
Mistakes should be used as an opportunity for learning – ‘something only possible if the mistake is truly forgiven because otherwise the lesson is heard as a reprimand and not as an offer of help’.
Let us now discuss the five basic steps required to manage underperformers.
Identify the problem
Analyze the feedback and, as far as possible, obtain agreement from the individual on what the shortfall has been. Feedback may be provided by managers but it can in a sense be built into the job. This takes place when individuals are aware of their targets and standards, know what performance measures will be used and either receive feedback/control information automatically or have easy access to it.
With proper feedback, the employees will then be in a position to measure and assess their own performance and, if they are well-motivated and well-trained, they can take their own corrective actions. In other words, a self-regulating feedback mechanism exists. This is a situation that managers should endeavor to create on the grounds that prevention is better than cure.
Establish the reason(s) for the shortfall
When seeking the reasons for any shortfalls, the manager should not crudely be trying to attach blame. The aim should be for the manager and the individual jointly to identify the facts that have contributed to the problem. It is on the basis of this factual analysis that decisions can be made on what to do about it by the individual, the manager or the two of them working together. It is necessary first to identify any causes that are external to the job and outside the control of either the manager or the individual.
Any factors that are within the control of the individual and/or the manager can then be considered. What needs to be determined is the extent to which the reason for the problem is because the individual −
- did not receive adequate support or guidance from his/her manager
- did not fully understand what he/she was expected to do
- could not do it – ability
- did not know how to do it – skill
- would not do it – attitude
Decide and agree on the action required
Action may be taken by the individual, the manager or both parties. This could include −
the individual taking steps to improve skills or change behavior;
the individual changing attitudes – the challenge is that people will not change their attitudes simply because they are told to do so; they can only be helped to understand that certain changes to their behavior could be beneficial not only to the organization but also to themselves;
the manager providing more support or guidance;
the manager and the individual working jointly to clarify expectations;
the manager and the individual working jointly to develop abilities and skills – this is a partnership in the sense that individuals will be expected to take steps to develop themselves but managers will provide help as required in the form of coaching, training and providing additional experience.
Whatever action is agreed, both parties must understand how they will know that it has succeeded. Feedback arrangements can be made but individuals should be encouraged to monitor their own performance and take further action as required.
Resource the action
Provide the coaching, training, guidance, experience or facilities required to enable agreed actions to happen.
Monitor and provide feedback
Both managers and individuals monitor performance, ensure that feedback is provided or obtained and analyzed, and agree on any further actions that may be necessary.