Improving under performance or managing capability


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We are regularly asked for advice on how to deal with someone who isn’t performing in their job and where that under performance isn’t caused by health issues. (We have a separate case study on working with clients to resolve healthrelated capability matters). As with some of our other case study materials under performance can be a sensitive subject and so we think it is best to talk only in general terms about the work we have done with clients.

The Collins Green Solutions

Ensuring everyone knows what is expected in the job

The first step for us is to find out more about the job, what is expected and what it looks like when someone is doing the job as the client intends. Sometimes there is a job description or a profile for the job and other times not, in which case we produce the appropriate document so we have a clear understanding of why the job exists and what the employee is expected to do.

Undertaking an employment review

We also ask our clients for clear examples of what the employee is doing and what they are not doing and also for details of any particular factors which might be stopping or hindering that person from carrying out some aspects of the job. We need to know also how long the employee has been with the client’s business, how long they have worked in this particular job, what training the individual has received, whether they have qualifications required for the job and whether there have been any recent changes to the content of the job which could be causing a dip in performance.

Top tips

  • Ensure you and the employee know what is expected of them
  • Make sure job documentation is in place
  • Review what factors could be stopping the employee from doing their job to the required standard
  • Clarify if it is a capability or attitude problem
  • Make sure you know how to structure a conversation around underperformance and give feedback appropriately
  • Listen to your employee
  • Take action – don’t let it drift on

Distinguishing between capability issues and poor attitude

By gathering this information we are also encouraging our clients to consider which factors could be relevant to how the employee is performing and whether the issue lies potentially in their capability to do the job or in a poor personal attitude which is more to do with misconduct and may lead to disciplinary action. Talking to someone about their performance can be uncomfortable (even if it is necessary) and we have both sat in on, and coached clients on how to structure the conversation and make sure that the feedback given to an employee is fair, balanced, clear and based on concrete examples of what is not going well. We have come across one situation where the feedback to the individual was so badly constructed that if he didn’t know what was wrong before he was given the feedback, he had even less chance afterwards!

Giving the employee their say

We also emphasise the need to listen carefully to what the employee says in return and to factor what they say into the next stage which is to set out areas for improvement, identify any training or additional support which might be required and plan out a period (usually 4-6 weeks) during which time the employee can work towards building up their performance and the client will review progress with them regularly.

Informal solutions are possible

Through this period it will become more apparent whether the poor performance is a matter of the employee’s ability to do their job or their attitude towards the work and/or the employer. In the case of the latter we’ve had employees resign because they realise that the employer is on their case and if they don’t improve disciplinary action will be taken and ultimately they could be dismissed. We’ve also cheered successes where that informal chat and a period of additional support have been just what was needed to put the employee back on track.

Taking action is vital

Poor performance is expensive and it will be costing your business money, irritating colleagues, making your working arrangements inefficient and probably causing you loss of sleep because you know you need to do something about it.

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