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Managing Poor Performance


In the interest of sharing best practise I am hoping that someone can recommend or share any training sessions that they have run on up-skilling managers to manage poor performance.

The discussions that managers need to have would be linked to our competencies and values and part of performance development - with the aim of improving the employee skill gaps (separate to formalised performance mgmt processes).

Any thoughts much appreciated.
Alina Sandell

12 Responses

  1. good ol’ “role play”
    I’m currently doing a programme with a company where we use good ol’ “role play” (how I hate that phrase!)
    We identified a series of scenarios based on realistic in company situations and produced TWO briefs for each one…one for the manager and one for the individual whose performance wasn’t up to scratch.
    Each scenario is then run live with the trainer and the other delegates giving feedback.
    This seems to work well
    PS we also do sessions on managing good performance so the people who are doing a good job get noticed as well

  2. Information available
    Hi there,

    The big question that floats to the front of my mind from reading your post was : how come there’s poor performance ?
    Have the managers already had training in topics such as ‘giving and receiving feedback’, and the SKILLS around performance management ? If so, then it looks like you need to address the managers’ attitudes and behaviours and gain commitment in terms of actual application of those skills.

    If you’re focusing on the SKILLS then you’ll need to firstly assess precisely why the ‘poor performance’ has come about.

    We’ve done a lot of work in this area, and I can probably dig out a couple of useful documents if you’d like. Feel free to email me.

  3. Root causes?
    Further to Jonathan’s comments, the root causes may lie outside of any skills gap. They could be systemic or cultural.

    For example, if front line managers are not tackling performance issues, employees may take this as a sign that it is not quite so important as all the other issues they have to contend with, so, in times of pressure, difficult operating situations, perhaps a poor pay rise and a lack of understanding of how their actions and inactions affect profits and ultimately pay rises etc, employees choose to behave in ways that involve less energy or effort, perhaps working a little slower, or not being so rigid on quality aspects.

    On the face of it such behaviours will first be impacted in profits and sales figures for example, but only months after the rot has started.

    Why are front line managers not being ‘hot’ on managing performance? Maybe they aren’t clear what their specific role is in certain circumstances, perhaps they are to chummy with their team, or maybe it’s a simple case that because their own managers are not holding them regularly to account for performance, they also, like their team, see it as less of a priority than all the other things they have to deal with.

    What will performance management training fix? Very likely nothing, at least not until the cultural issues of not holding people to account are dealt with, and not until a measurement system that people can understand and respect is in place.

    So sure, train away, but not in isolation. Be clear what the root causes are, and deal with those – training will almost certainly be a part of the solution, and if you know what the root causes are, the training can be very targetted and with minimum disruption to operations. See some of my articles at

    Good luck,


  4. Clarify poor performance
    I feel one of the pre-requisites to managing poor performance is to define what is meant by poor performance. One person’s disciplinary is another person’s “quiet word”. Once this has been clarified training can be organised accordingly. I have found workpplace simulation with the introduction of real life scenarios to be very effective. Feel free to Email me or give me ac call on 01234-317994.

  5. Surely the Manager is supposed to be managing good performance?
    If a manager is “managing poor performance” is that another way of saying that he is failing to manage.

    If he is failing to manage it seems more logical to provide him with the tools that will allow him to manage success instead of a strategy to manage failure well.

  6. A practical suggestion

    Notwithstanding all the other feedback you have received regarding root causes etc. here is a practical suggestion on a way forward that I have used very successfully in the past. The method relies on you or another experienced facilitator working with managers to find a shared solution that they own and are willing to put into practice.

    Step 1 would be to define ‘what is needed’ clearly with the managers (or a representation of them.) This will clarify how what you are trying to do links with your organisational values and your performance management system. At the end of this stage you are seeking to get shared agreement on what is needed e.g. “We need a way to recognise poor performance and take the necessary steps to eradicate it.”

    Step 2 – would be to have managers design in outline their own process for meeting the need. At this stage it would be a high level design. For example, the first activity in the process might be “Recognise poor performance” then “Gather and assess all relevant information” then “Hold first review meeting with poor performer” then “Decide appropriate course of action” then “Hold second review meeting” and finally “Close case”

    Step 3 – would be to look in more detail at each stage of the process agreed above and ask ‘how can this be done in our particular case?’ For example, what are the ways a manager can recognise poor performance? Etc.

    I find it helpful in this step to offer managers already published material on ‘how to models’ that may assist their development of the process. For example the G.R.O.W. model from the coaching literature might offer a basis for running a first review meeting with a poor performer. By involving managers in designing a solution they alone will use to resolve a problem they have agreed is worth tackling avoids selling and training in any one particular approach that may or may not suit everybody.

    Step 4 – involves practice using their process. I usually use role play and peer feedback for this but not using pre defined cases studies. I simply ask that managers bring along a real live case and they ask a colleague manager to role play the poor performer. That way they get to practice something they will have to do for real.

    Call me off-line if I can be of more help.

    01993 813721

  7. New Laws
    I’m surprised my colleagues have failed to mention a change in the law at the start of October.

    If your organisation already has a Performance Management Process in place, it should be allied to the Disciplinary Policy. Your managers must follow this process/policy to the letter. If they do not and your organisation ends up at an Employment Tribunal, this will be held against you and you are likely to lose the Tribunal as a result.

    If you wish to change the process/policy that you have in place, then change it to one that is approved by ACAS, again if you do not then you could end up losing a Tribunal.

    Managing Performance is now inextricably linked to Discipline Policies.

    Performance Development on the other hand is not, but must still be handled extremely carefully because at some points it does impinge on legal areas.

    If you want to revied this with your managers, I will happily send you a few slides from a presentation that I deliver on this area.

    Best regards,

  8. Confused of Andover!!
    I’m wondering if I’ve missed something here.

    Performance management and disciplinary policy are 2 different things, surely?

    Performance management to me is about achieving outcomes and targets in line with business and to a lesser extent perhaps, personal objectives.

    The disciplinary process is surely about dealing with deliberate actions or inactions that are contrary to the good order and name of the organisation, e.g. contravening statutiry policy such as H&S, or refusing to perform a reasonable request, or repeated absence with no good cause.

    How does one link with the other in law? Again, to my mind, performance management steps in to disciplinary process when somebody effectively REFUSES (overtly or otehrwise) to do something that impacts upon performance. This is different from being UNABLE to perform at the required standard, a situation for which many organisations have a capability policy.

    Perhaps somebody could clarify things for me?

    Many thanks,

  9. It is not always a clear cut case.

    I agree that disciplinary and performance management are two distinct processes. In some cases knowing which one to invoke is crystal clear e.g. ‘dealing with deliberate actions
    or inactions that are contrary to the good order and name of the
    organisation.’ However it is not always clear cut for managers. Take for example an employee whose performance is at times exceptional but at other times abysmal. S/he can be a really effective team player on some days and not on others. Evidence gathered by a manager say from work records, stories told and general impressions formed by the employee’s colleagues are also conflicting.

    My point is that managers need to establish that evidence, look for patterns in it and know what possible courses of action are open to them before they meet face to face with the employee concerned. Such courses of action might include, doing nothing, engaging the help of occupational health or counselling expertise, using perfomance management techniques, changing the nature of the employees work and as a last resort – commencing the disciplinary procedure.

    Many managers are not always aware of the range of options open to them to remedy poor performance. They also wish it was a problem somebody else could deal with and so frequently take the do nothing option – leaving the problem to fester and potentially get much worse. Now I know they may not be effective managers if they take this line, but hey, that’s why people like us are called in to help.

    Going back to the original request Alina made, I am simply advocating that managers may need a process that they own because they are helped to design it themselves, is linked to the organisation’s competencies and values and would increase their competence and importantly their confidence to make it work. It would therefore need to cover all eventualities – the clear cut cases and the not so clear ones.

  10. Leaders Need to Look in the Mirror First
    I would support Peter Hunter’s contention that the primary focus of “performance management” should be on good performance, not poor performance. In other words, it should be directed towards enabling ordinary people (ie people like most of us!) to perform extraordinarily well.

    Unfortunately, the emphasis is too often placed on screening out so-called poor performers and dealing with them through HR’s formal capability- or (if relevant) disciplinary-based procedures.

    However, you cannot collapse the full breadth of performance management into a mechanistic system of performance measurement, formal feedback sessions and remedial procedures. Unlocking the organisation’s talent and channelling it for business benefit is the real meaning of performance management. Organisations must not be seduced into thinking that the same effect will be achieved simply by applying a few coats of Performance Management gloss (such as updated forms of MBO, ‘carrot and stick’ reward systems, and reliance on formal, programmed feedback sessions) to their existing management practices. Instead, leaders at all levels need to embed the principles and practices of high performance through the language they use, the attitudes they display and their everyday behaviours. Otherwise, efforts will degenerate into little more than a performance cult – kept alive by the ‘life support machine’ of impersonal techniques, targets and reports.

    Individual performance does not exist in a vacuum. It takes place, in particular, in the context of the relationship that the individual has with their leader. Where a leader detects evidence of poor performance, therefore, they should perhaps look first in the mirror, at what they themselves are contributing to it, before looking out of the window and condemning what others might be doing.

  11. bad eggs and good eggs

    The level 5 leadership model and the mirror and the window – Jim Collins Good to Great – is an excellent metaphor here.

    Sometimes, when leaders/managers look out the window and rightly take great pride in what their people are achieving, they sometimes, just sometimes, see one or two individuals who, despite all the coaching and support in the world in the context of an extremely humane work environment, just don’t produce or participate. No matter how long they gaze into the mirror, there are cases when the leader / manager have NOT got it wrong – the errant employee has. This bad egg syndrome has to be dealt with for the good of the whole.

    I am not advocating ‘fire ’em’ as a first resort, on the contrary. But managers who are at the end of the road in terms of doing all they can to help someone, have to have this option. Their good eggs expect them to use it in extreme circumstances however difficult this may be. Rather than induce fear, I have seen the dismissal of someone who has not responded to countless help and support attempts be a source of disappointment but also great unity and relief to teams.

    Jim Collins also advocated the you have to have the ‘Right people on the bus.’

  12. Managers are ‘on the pitch, playing’

    I agree wholeheartedly with your comments about the need to be able to remove genuinely poor performers who, despite the manager’s best efforts to address the problem, continue to underperform. The situation then needs to be dealt with promptly and professionally for the good both of the organisation and the individual.

    As you imply, leaders have a responsibility to sustain and develop the performance of the whole as well as of individuals; and the former may require action to be taken to remove an individual whose behaviour is undermining the health and performance of the wider organisation.

    My earlier comments simply sought to make the point that leaders/managers are ‘on the pitch, playing’, not ‘sitting in the stands’ watching others perform. Too often, managers begin with the assumption that all performance problems exist ‘out there’, rather that relecting first on the contribution – if any – that their own actions or inaction may be having on unfolding events.

    As a final point, the way in which poor performers are dealt with provides important signals to the rest of the team, both in terms of the determination to address issues of performance and in relation to the manner in which the individual is treated.


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