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Wonky Widgets And Lazy Employees

The Con-Dem coalition has recently reached the end of its first 100 days. Nick Clegg has said that it has been a remarkable time and the coalition’s performance has certainly been energetic and interesting.

Talking to employees who are not meeting required performance standards is not a task that managers relish. 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. Be careful with your words. Managers often get their language confused when it comes to discipline. For example, a manager might refer to poor timekeeping and say ‘Your performance has got to improve’.

In that case, timekeeping is about an unwillingness to meet the standards – which is conduct. So the employee’s conduct related to timekeeping has to improve, rather than his performance. If an employee’s performance falls below the required standard, employers should take early action. You are expected to give guidance and corrective coaching to the employee, and allow him a real and reasonable opportunity to reach the standards.

The first steps will be informal. Agree and set down precise performance targets, which are capable of being measured. Meet regularly to exchange feedback and reinforce all performance improvements positively. One of the key skills is to explain how and why the employee’s performance does not meet the standard in factual, objective terms.

Many inexperienced managers ignore the facts and make inappropriate remarks, including: “Why are you so lazy?” “Why are your widgets always wonky?” "Your cupcakes are the worst in the department” It’s far more effective to put this in objective terms that won’t attack the individual, for example, 'the error rate in your widgets is 35%, compared to an average of 5% from the rest of the team.'

It’s worth persevering. Once mastered, dealing with poor performance will lead to improved performance for the whole team, including that of the manager.

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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