HR Leads Business

Aug 20, 2019 | Clare Chiappetta

Dealing with Performance Problems

The annual performance review appears to be going the way of the Rolodex. In recent years, the old standard in performance evaluation has been deemed irrelevant and ineffective, if not downright harmful. 

For many employees this once-a-year sit-down meeting is their the only indication that upper management has a problem with their performance. And according to Gallup, only 14% of employees strongly agree that annual performance reviews inspire them to improve at their work.

The thinking on performance reviews has shifted in recent years, with many HR experts arguing instead that they should occur frequently and conversationally. “The biggest step HR can take to help is to train managers in how to have performance conversations,” says Leigh Steere, co-founder of Managing People Better. “Very few people find these conversations comfortable; however, they are a necessary part of a manager's job.”

Here are some things to consider when addressing poor performance at your organization.

Practice Empathy — You May Not Know the Whole Story

If an employee’s performance changes suddenly, it’s possible that there are external factors. Your employee may be going through a divorce or some other family situation that could be compromising their performance. Your managers should address the issue, but you need to encourage them to be empathetic.

Internal factors that may lead to performance problems could include training, skills gaps or miscommunications. You should approach these situations with empathy as well. “Someone with a skill or knowledge gap is likely to respond best to a supportive and encouraging approach, with additional training or instruction, clarity around the goals they need to be achieving and feedback around how they are progressing,” says Laura Ranaghan, a consultant at CitrusHR.

When It Comes to Negative Behaviors, Be Proactive

Behavior is a different kind of problem and has to be addressed differently. “Behavior-related poor performance should be approached more firmly,” Ranaghan says. “The employee should receive an immediate caution that you may need to start your disciplinary procedure if they don't meet the required standards.”

Letting a problem occur and reoccur doesn’t help anyone — least of all the employee. If you’re having trouble with an employee’s behavior or performance, you need to address it immediately. “Ideally, most of these issues should not escalate to HR,” Steere says. “The manager needs to feel empowered to pull the employee aside for a private performance conversation, right from the start.”

Equip Managers to Handle Problems

In many cases managers come to HR before directly addressing a problem with an employee. “If a manager comes to HR for help, the first question the HR person should ask is ‘What steps have you taken already to resolve this problem?’ ” Steere says. “Listen to the manager's response and use it as an opportunity to coach them — they may not know the best way to deal with conflict.”

The biggest problem in correcting performance problems is when an issue isn’t addressed quickly and the problem is allowed to continue. Not all managers know how to manage people’s performance effectively, so consider offering supplemental conflict-management training. “You want to equip managers to be able to handle the most common performance problems so they're not bringing every single issue to HR.” Steere says. “They should feel empowered to handle the situation on their own.”