23 January 2015

How can line managers tackle underperformers effectively?

At some point all managers and HR professionals will encounter underperforming staff. How can the HR department help line managers deal with this challenging issue?

As well as damaging their own prospects and reputation, a member of staff who is underperforming can have a negative impact on the whole team.

Line managers are likely to be the first people to notice underperformance and the responsibility for dealing with it is ultimately theirs. However, HR staff can support them in handling the situation.

Here are some possible approaches to take:

Make sure employees know what’s expected from them
Before action is taken, it’s crucial to be sure that the employee understands what’s needed from them and for those expectations to be realistic and unambiguous.

HR staff can check with managers that they’ve made expectations clear and that they’re giving regular feedback. The basics, like job descriptions and regular appraisals, should be in place.

Identify the reason for underperformance
Finding out why the person is underperforming is essential. Strategies for dealing with the issue will be very different depending on whether the underperformance has been triggered by a personal issue, or whether it’s down to a change in the workplace or a lack of capability.

One indicator could be when the underperformance started. If the employee has been with the company for some time and has suddenly started underperforming it could be due to a personal issue, such as divorce, bereavement or family difficulties. Or it could be due to a conflict that has arisen within the team.

If they have just started working for the company and are underperforming, it may be that they don’t understand what’s expected of them, need more training or – the worst-case scenario – that they’re not capable of doing the job.

Managers can arrange a conversation with the employee to try to establish what’s causing the underperformance and decide where to go from there.

Look at possible solutions
A number of solutions are available to managers, depending on the reasons for underperformance.

  • Counselling: this may be appropriate if the person is experiencing personal issues.
  • Training and mentoring: the staff member may need more training, or support from their line manager if there are issues within the team.
  • Moving to another position: the employee’s role may have changed or they may not be suitable for the role they’ve been recruited for, but they may have skills that can be used elsewhere in the company.

The manager can use tools like a performance improvement plan (Pip) to set out goals and monitor the employee’s progress.

If none of these strategies work, the manager may have to move towards dismissal.

Underperformance handling essentials
Whatever solutions are chosen, it’s essential that all the appropriate processes are followed, otherwise the company could be open to legal action.

It’s also vital that underperformance is dealt with in a timely manner. Letting it drag on can affect the team’s respect for their manager and lower morale.

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Linked:HR (#1 Human Resources Group)
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