An employee’s underperformance can have an impact on overall team morale and the accuracy of work — resulting in wasted time and productivity. According to research, poor performance reduces productivity and has a negative impact on the motivation of other staff as well as retention. However, most managers find underperformance conversations uncomfortable and try to avoid them where possible. It’s important that you get to the root cause of underperformance by talking to your employee, rather than turning a blind eye. Having an underperformance conversation is an opportunity to help an employee get back on track. This is why Advanced Clear Review uses the term “realignment” rather than underperformance.
Should these conversations still be a priority while we are working remotely?
All of a sudden, we feel like life has halted. But in reality, for most of us, it’s business as usual — albeit from home. Remote working has been the norm for many people prior to lockdown and yet many of those remote workers were still having performance conversations. With remote working becoming the new norm for us all, there’s no reason why these conversations shouldn’t continue. Poor performance could hint at other underlying issues for a person, perhaps they are struggling with their mental health and that is something that shouldn’t be ignored. It also doesn’t warrant the traditional underperformance conversation and managers should take a wellbeing approach to supporting that person before exploring what’s happening with their work.
The problems with avoiding underperformance conversations:
Low team morale and distrust
Problems also arise when underperformance conversations are avoided. Usually, other team members are well aware of an underperformer in their team. In situations where employees have to be made redundant and teams are contracting, there may be feelings of unfairness among your team if an underperformer hangs around, while a more hardworking team member goes. This can lead to low levels of morale and distrust with managers and leadership.
Unfortunately, many managers may use the current crisis to make certain underperforming employees redundant — often because they don’t want to have that difficult conversation. This is problematic for a number of reasons:
- Firstly, your employee won’t know about their underperformance issue and therefore won’t know how to improve.
- Secondly, that employee may have some key skills, that if improved upon, could have been valuable to your team and organisation.
- If underperformers are dismissed under the pretence of a “redundancy”, insecurities and anxiety can arise among other employees. They may start to think that a slight hiccup in their work might mean redundancy for them too.
The best way to deal with an underperforming employee is by talking to them! Talking to them will help them realise what they need to improve. Maybe there’s something going on in their personal life which has affected their performance? Perhaps their skill set and the role they are doing don’t match? They also might not be aware that they are underperforming and may need help understanding why that is, and how they can improve. You cannot fix the problem if you don’t have these conversations in the first place.
How can you have a good underperformance conversation?
Reducing ambiguity is essential if you want to reduce anxiety. Managers should be clear about what the conversation will be about. Striking a balance is important in your conversation. You have to be straight to the point but be careful not to have an accusatory tone. What can help reduce ambiguity is writing up what was discussed in the meeting and following up afterwards so that your employee has something to refer back to. Research shows that reinforcing your steps or points in writing makes work more likely to be completed.
Preparation is key
Preparation before the meeting is key. If you want to avoid coming across as confrontational or blamey, it might be worth considering some examples of where the employee has underperformed and perhaps what impact it has had on the wider team or business. Giving examples allows you to focus on a particular aspect of their underperformance and gives evidence as to where they are underperforming. It reduces any chance of biases happening in such a sensitive conversation and also gives your employee the chance to explain why in that particular instance, their performance wasn’t great.
It’s a two-way process
Realignment has to be in a relaxed environment. Managers have to remember that it is a two-way process where the employee does most of the talking. Managers should try to be silent and let the employee talk because it’s their time to talk and explain their feelings on their performance. In our recent Campaign for Real Conversations webinar on realignment, Rich Jones, Senior Advisor at ACAS explained, “Getting used to silence is important so the individual can talk. It’s very important that the focus on the future and not the past. You’re trying to help them and not punish.”
Managers should let their employee start to answer for themselves on how they can improve to meet the targets. This helps your employee take ownership of their performance and also gives it a future focus, rather than focusing on what’s gone wrong in the past.
Motivate your employees
Explain the importance of your employee’s role to the team and why it’s critical that they perform to the best of their abilities. It’s important to make sure that whilst you are having this conversation, you don’t have an accusatory tone, as you don’t want the conversation to seem confrontational. A lot of the time underperformance is as a result of an unengaged employee and we know that work engagement is the single best predictor for performance. Trying to understand what can help your employees feel more engaged in their work can help increase their motivation and as a result, their performance. There may be an aspect of their job that they don’t like doing, that you could easily change.
Make sure it happens face to face
Having underperformance conversations becomes more difficult when working remotely. A lot of the time employees that are underperforming, know that they are underperforming. And when they are brought up on it, sometimes they might say, “yeah you’re right.” But that is much harder when you are in a remote working situation. You cannot have that easy dialogue if you cannot see someone’s face and body language. A phone call or an email is not ideal to discuss underperformance. You want to be having face-to-face conversations, whether it’s on video call or in the office.