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Handling poor performance

Keeping track of your employees’ performance — both when it’s good, and not so good — will help keep your business running smoothly and help your employees to meet the requirements of their role.

What is a performance management plan?

A performance management plan is effectively a process for what you’ll do if an employee is not performing at an acceptable level.

In most cases, having regular performance appraisals and informal catch ups with your team will be enough to keep things on track. But occasionally you might need to take it further, and this is when your performance management plan comes into play.

Knowing in advance what steps you need to take means you can act quickly to help your employee get back on track.

Use the tasklist and checklist  on this page to help you avoid these common mistakes.

Use the tasklist and checklist on this page to help you avoid these common mistakes.

These will also provide a record of what's happened.

If you’re concerned about an employee’s performance, this process will help you work out what the issues are, and put a plan in place for improvement.

Step 1. Identify the issues

Start by clarifying what the issues are:

  • Check the employee’s job description to confirm the agreed performance standards.
  • Check the clause in their employment agreement about poor performance.
  • Identify where they are failing, meeting and exceeding expectations.
  • Think about any training or support they’ve had, or anything extra you could provide to improve their performance.

Step 2. Arrange a meeting

Request a meeting with your employee. The meeting request should:

  • be in writing (an emailed meeting invite is acceptable)
  • state that the reason for the meeting is to discuss performance
  • state that the employee can bring a support person with them to the meeting.

Step 3. Meet with the employee

At the meeting, discuss the employee’s overall performance, and outline the areas of concern — relating it to the agreed standards in their job description.

Allow them to respond, and consider any contributing factors, e.g. personal issues or whether they think they haven’t had sufficient training.

After discussing the issues, agree what the acceptable standards will be going forward, and what needs to happen for your employee to achieve them, including what training or support you’ll provide. Agree when you’ll meet again to review their performance — around two months should be about right. You should also let them know what the potential impact will be if they don’t meet them, e.g. you may issue a formal warning.

After the meeting, document the performance agreement — put a copy in the employee’s personnel file and give a copy to the employee for their reference.

Step 4. Track their progress

During the period between the first meeting and the review, document anything related to the employee’s performance, e.g. any training or support you provide, dates when performance is particularly good or not up to standard.

Step 5. Meet to review progress

Set up the follow-up meeting for the agreed date. Again, you should do this in writing, and let the employee know they can bring a support person with them.

At the meeting, review:

  • whether the agreed performance standards have been met
  • if there are any areas still needing improvement
  • the significance of any areas still needing to improve.

Based on the review, you can:

  • agree performance has improved to an acceptable level and take no further action
  • repeat the performance management process until performance is acceptable
  • issue a formal warning in line with the disciplinary process.

Document the outcome of this meeting and put a copy in your employee’s personnel file, and provide them with their own copy.

To reduce the risk of a personal grievance, don’t fall into these common traps:

  • not recording the outcomes of the meeting or sharing them with your employee — this is important to make sure you’re on the same page
  • not documenting performance between the initial meeting and the review meeting — you need to have evidence if they’re not improving, and that you’ve done what you said you would
  • not providing the support or training your employee needs to do their job properly
  • not allowing them to, or forgetting to tell the employee that they can bring a support person to meetings to discuss their performance.

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