Nikita Pillay - Performance Management
Nikita Pillay - Performance Management

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Nikita Pillay - Performance Management


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.

Misconduct Versus Poor Performance
It is important to know the difference between misconduct and poor performance. Confusing the two could mean your approach is completely wrong. The main difference is in the level of control.

Poor performance is when an employee tries as hard as possible but keeps falling short because they lack skill, ability or training for example. In cases of misconduct, the employee could perform better but for whatever reason chooses not to.

What are the reasons for poor performance?
There are many reasons why an employee may perform poorly. Some of the common reasons include:
  • An employee doesn't know what is expected because goals and/or standards or workplace policies and consequences are not clear(or have not been set)
  • Interpersonal differences
  • There is a mismatch between an employee's capabilities and the job they are required to undertake, or the employee does not have the knowledge or skills to do the job expected of them
  • An employee does not know whether they are doing a good job because there is no counselling or feedback on their performance
  • Lack of personal motivation, low morale in the workplace and/or poor work environment
  • Personal issues such as family stress, physical and/or mental health problems or problems with drugs or alcohol
  • Cultural misunderstandings
  • Workplace bullying.
Was it the employee's fault that the performance standard was not met?
Dismissal will probably be adjudged to be unfair if the reason for the poor performance was that:
  • The employer had failed to provide the employee with materials
  • Equipment was faulty
  • Required training had not been given
  • The employer's product was not in demand
  • Some other reason beyond the employee's control.
An effective Performance Management process establishes the groundwork for excellence by:
  • Linking individual employee objectives with the organisation's mission and strategic plans. The employee has a clear concept on how they contribute to the achievement the overall business objective
  • Focusing on setting clear performance objectives and expectations using results, actions and behaviours
  • Defining clear development plans as part of the process
  • Conducting regular discussions throughout the performance cycle which include such things as coaching, mentoring, feedback, and assessment
Step by Step guide to Managing Poor Performance
Step 1 - Identify the problem
It is important to understand the key drivers of performance or poor performance within the workforce. It is also important to identify the problem specifically.

Step 2 - Assess and analyse the problem

The employer should determine:
  • How serious the problem is
  • How long the problem has existed
  • How wide the gap is between what is expected and what is being delivered
Once the problem has been identified and assessed, the employer should organise a meeting with the employee to discuss the problem. The employer should let the employee know the purpose of the meeting in advance so they can adequately prepare for the meeting. The employee should be allowed to bring a support person of their choice or a union representative to the meeting.

Step 3 - Meet with the employee to discuss the problem
It is important that the meeting takes place in private and in an environment that is comfortable and nonthreatening, away from distractions and interruptions.

The employer should begin by holding a discussion with the employee to explain the problem in specific terms.

From this conversation, the employee should be able to clearly understand:
  • What the problem is
  • Why it is a problem
  • How it impacts on the workplace
  • Why there is a concern
The employer should discuss the outcomes they wish to achieve from the meeting. The meeting should be an open discussion and the employee should have an opportunity to have their point of view heard and duly considered. The employer should listen to the explanation of why the problem has occurred or to any other comments the employee makes.

When having this type of meeting, it may be useful in facilitating discussion to refer to recent positive things that the employee has done to show them that you also recognise and appreciate their strengths.

Key points for employers to remember when holding the meeting are to:
  • Talk about the issue and not the person
  • Explore the reasons why there is an issue
  • Clarify details
  • Stay relaxed and encouraging
  • Summarise to check your understanding of the situation.
And, when discussing shortfalls in any area, it is important to check that the employee:
  • Is aware that it is a task that is required of them
  • Has been shown what is required
  • Understands the gap between what is happening and what is required
Step 4 - Jointly devise a solution
Where possible, it is important that a solution is jointly devised with the employee. An employee who has contributed to the solution will be more likely to accept and act on it.

When working out a solution, the employer should:
  • Explore ideas by asking open questions
  • Emphasise common ground
  • Keep the discussion on track
  • Focus on positive possibilities
  • Offer assistance, such as further training, mentoring, flexible work practices or redefining roles and expectations
A clear plan of action should be developed with the employee to implement the solution. This can be in the form of a performance agreement or action plan. A performance agreement or action plan can:
  • Reflect an understanding of performance expectations and what is to be achieved over the specified time period (performance improvement milestones)
  • Clarify roles and responsibilities of the employee
  • Include strategies for training and career development
  • Include timeframes for improvement (these may vary depending on the issue and needs of the business; however, it is important to give an employee adequate time to improve their performance)
  • Reinforce the value and worth of the role being performed
A date should be set for another meeting with the employee to review progress and discuss the employee's performance against the agreed action plan.

The employer should keep a written record of all discussions relating to poor performance in case further action is required. Generally, it may also be used as evidence if legal action is taken about the matter.

Step 5 - Monitor performance
The employer should monitor the employee's performance and continue to provide feedback and encouragement. A meeting to review and discuss the employee's performance should be held even if there is no longer an issue. This enables both parties to acknowledge that the issue has been resolved.

The employer should provide both positive and negative feedback to the employee and should work with the employee to ensure that performance improvements are sustained. More serious action may need to be taken if the employee's performance does not improve including further counselling, issuing formal warnings and ultimately if the issue cannot be resolved, termination of employment.

Termination of employment If an employee's performance does not improve to an acceptable standard, termination of their employment may be an option. Employers cannot dismiss their employees in circumstances that are "harsh, unjust or unreasonable".

What is harsh, unjust or unreasonable will depend on the circumstances of each case. However, it is important to be fair to employees particularly when it comes to termination of employment. They should be given reasons for dismissal and an opportunity to respond to those reasons.

Employers should not dismiss poor-performers without having attended to the above requirements and without having followed proper procedure. Where the employer is at all unsure as to whether it is within its rights to dismiss a poor performer, it should first get advice from a reputable labour law expert.

Nikita Pillay
T: +27 (0)31 767 0625

Nikita Pillay - Performance Management

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