Performance Management Training for Underperforming Staff

Performance Management
Businessman drawing performance management cycle on transparent screen

Every organization strives to achieve a situation where all employees and teams are consistently achieving their goals and objectives. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case in reality. Other things simply get in the way, unforeseen obstacles arise out of nowhere and targets are missed. However, some individuals consistently underperform, no matter the conditions. Why is that, and what can be done about it? In this article we explore the area of underperforming staff, and how performance management training can help those individuals raise their level of performance.

A crystal clear understanding of what exactly success looks like is the immediate starting point for any initiative to bring underperformers in line with the norms of the organization. It also requires clarity to be brought to the level of underperformance as viewed by the manager themselves. The employee needs to clearly understand both what is expected of them, and the current gap between where they are now and where the expectation lies.

This “baseline” performance target needs to have been established and communicated during the previous appraisal meeting. In order to determine if an employee is underperforming, it is essential to identify clear evidence of where the baseline has not been reached. Examples of previous projects and tasks, appraisals, 360-degree reviews may all be used.  It is only then that we have identified the gap of underperformance.  The performance gap must be the core focus for both the Manager and the employee in order to raise the standard of performance to where it needs to be.

Managers that are coaching underperformers need to have undergone formal performance management training in order to ensure that they are adhering to and passing on, best practices in performance management. Simply “winging it” is not an option. There is a multitude of frameworks and tools that managers can use to help underperforming staff, but they need to first be aware of these, and then be trained in how best to use these tools.

Managers that have been through a formal training course will understand the very nature of performance itself. They may already have come across the definition of “performance” as: Performance = Ability multiplied by Motivation, where…

  • Ability is the person’s aptitude, as well as the training and resources supplied by the organization.
  • Motivation is the product of desire and commitment.

It is obviously critical that the Manager identifies the root cause of underperformance. Is it a problem of motivation, or simply a problem of ability? If the employee simply does not have the skills and capabilities to perform the job, then the problem really lies with the Manager who put them in the spot in the first place. Now the question will be, can the Manager coach and train this individual to the point where they have the requisite skills and capabilities?

The important point here is that incorrect diagnosis may simply exacerbate the problem e.g. mistakenly believing that effort and motivation are the problems could lead a manager to increase pressure to perform even though the real issue is the individual’s “ability” to perform the role. This in turn could then lead to even worse performance.

If capabilities have been identified as the root cause of the underperformance then the manager has various options available to them. Whetton and Cameron have developed the following model:

  1. Resupply – are additional resources required?
  2. Retrain – have skills become outdated?
  3. Refit – could it be appropriate to adapt the role itself?
    1. Could a different combination of tasks be a better fit? Reallocate others.
  4. Reassign – reducing the demands of the job, but keep it challenging.
    1. And avoid using demotion as a punishment.
  5. Release – if you have determined that nothing more can be done to support the employee, it may simply be time to part ways.

If motivation has been determined as the core issue then Whetton and Cameron recommend the following:

  • The setting of performance goals.
  • Provision of performance assistance.
  • Provision of performance feedback.
  • Once you have made your absolute best effort, and have reasonably exhausted all options it is probably time to let the person go…respectfully!

Identifying whether an individual is underperforming due to a lack of ability, or simply a lack of motivation is key to managing underperformers. Managers should use this approach to dealing with any underperforming individuals on their team to ensure that they are trying to fix the right issue with the right tools.

This “baseline” performance target needs to have been established and communicated during the previous appraisal meeting. A Performance Management System of an organization works to identify and determine if an employee is underperforming, it is essential to identify clear evidence of where the baseline has not been reached.