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Providing feedback

When employees don’t perform as they should (and this is something we deal with often) it needs to be tackled and quickly. Many employers don’t even recognise that they have poor performance issues, never mind deal with them. And even when they do there is a marked tendency to procrastinate and only deal with poor performance when a serious matter comes of it. I should get a recording made of the next bit! Poor performance must be dealt with as soon as possible; employees won’t know that they have done anything wrong unless they are told. Poor performance is not the fault of the employee but arises for a variety of reasons, often connected with a lack of knowledge, skill, aptitude or training. An essential part of helping employees improve their performance is the provision of regular, objective feedback.

When you speak to an employee about his performance, go into the conversation with a positive mind-set. This is not the place to get irritated with him but an opportunity to help him improve and be the best he can. It is all too easy for an employer to say things such as ‘you’re rubbish’ and ‘you’re not doing it properly’, especially if they are frustrated with the individual. This approach won’t get you very far; if you attack someone on a personal level the employee will dig his heels in, pout and you will see little if any improvement - which makes you even crosser and more frustrated. If you are positive, constructive and calm an employee is more likely to listen and want to work with you to improve.

Be specific about the feedback you give. Say what is not working well and give an example of when it happened that way. Not only are you providing evidence to the employee but he is then more likely to understand your concerns and see where his mistakes are. Tell your employee how it should happen, give an example of what success looks like, how these things should be done and explain what he needs to do to get to that level. Agree a process with the employee for achieving the required level of improvement. With capability, it works best to get the momentum going by agreeing softer targets which are easier to achieve to start with and then building on those. Be very precise about what success looks like – define it closely using numbers, colours, sizes, time scales and other descriptive devices so the employee really grasps what you require. Don’t just talk vaguely about “improvement”. So many employers do this and it’s a recipe for failure! The employee’s idea of improvement is unlikely to match yours.

The timing of feedback is also important. Make notes each week of what’s gone well and what’s not gone so well. You will almost certainly have discussed these points at the time, but they will make up part of the performance history to be reviewed. If you note what’s happening at the time you can then refer back to it accurately in your meetings and it will help you identify the level of improvement and any patterns that have formed. Hold regular one to one meetings to review progress and plan next steps. Keep a note of the conversation and actions and send a copy to your employee.

Be balanced. Remember to provide good feedback to employees too, tell him what he’s doing well and encourage him to keep that up. Don’t make up good feedback or ignore the badly performing elephant in the corner for the sake of having something good to say as this could come back to bite you in the future.

If things don’t reach the specific targets in a reasonable time, you will have to escalate matters to the formal process. Entering a formal capability process doesn’t mean that you stop supporting the employee and it doesn’t mean an automatic dismissal. You cannot be expected to carry staff who cannot do their job, so unless we are able to help him achieve the necessary improvements or accommodate him elsewhere in the organisation, eventually we will terminate employment.

Like so many other good management practices, it’s a case of a planned and well-organised approach. It takes some time to do this, but the investment will repay you many times over, both in time and productivity.

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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