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Polishing Up Poor Performers

Dealing with an employee with poor performance is not one that many managers relish, but it is an essential management skill. So what do you do when you have an employee who doesn’t come up to scratch? Start by identifying the root of the problem.

It’s not always obvious and may need detailed investigation. For example, a manufacturing manager found a series of mistakes in work produced by a woman who assembled small electronic components. It was close work and required meticulous attention to detail. Her knowledge was tested (it was fine) and she was very diligent and careful.

The manager was mystified until during the investigation he asked a question which made him realise that she needed spectacles for close work. Once she’d been provided with these, the mistakes stopped. It is now depressingly common for an employee who has poor performance to become defensive and verbally attack the manager who’s trying to guide them.

Earlier this week I chaired a meeting with a woman who admitted that she had some performance problems in the past, but seemed unable to accept her manager’s concerns that she is still below the required standards in a number of ways. All too frequently employees choose not to take responsibility for themselves, but start hurling accusations of bullying and harassment around.

If an employee complains of harassment when you’re trying to manage him, there are a number of tactics to use. Make sure that your dignity at work procedure points out that managers have a right and a duty to manage. If a manager is seeking to help and encourage an employee to do his job in an appropriate fashion, it does not constitute bullying, harassment or victimisation.

Ask why the employee thinks he is being bullied. A useful phrase to bring out is ’Help me understand why you think I’m treating you less favourably than anyone else who performs at this level?’ Then wait politely for the answer. Repeat if necessary. By putting the onus back on the employee you start to call him to account. It’s worth persevering. Once mastered, dealing with poor performance will lead to improved performance for the whole team, including that of the manager. We’re running a workshop on managing poor work performance on 3rd November.

Also we will soon be publishing our new book, 'How to Get Top Marks in ... Managing Poor Work Performance'. Due to be published in September, 'Managing Poor Work Performance' is the first in the new, 'How to Get Top Marks in ...' series by Kate Russell.

The book guides the employer through the legal framework, discusses the correct way to manage poor work performance and offers practical guidance and HR Headmistress tactics to make the process straightforward, effective and painless. For more details on our workshop, call 0845 644 8955 or to find out for about the ‘How to Get Top Marks in …’ series, visit

Russell HR Consulting provides expert knowledge in HR solutions, employment law training and HR tools and resources to businesses across the UK.

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