Managing poor performance – using a performance plan

Over the last few weeks, we have been exploring the issue of managing poor performance with our HR expert executive coaches, including Marg Lennon and Paula Liverani-Brooks. This week we hear from Trish Kelly, a Sydney-based executive coach who was the General Manager Human Resources for 8 years in the NSW Department of Education and Communities, at that time the largest organisation in the southern hemisphere. Trish says:

Trish Kelly, Executive Coach
Trish Kelly, Executive Coach

Poor performance is an ongoing concern or pattern where an employee is not meeting the required level of performance for the role. It is not a one-off occurrence.

In order to identify poor performance, a manager must first understand what the performance expectations are for the role. This means understanding and communicating what successful performance looks like.

Performance expectations should be set out objectively in an employee’s Performance Plan which is developed collaboratively by the employee and their manager. The Plan sets out the key responsibilities, performance indicators, learning and development and support needed to achieve the accountabilities of the role.

As part of the Performance Plan there should be regular informal and formal feedback provided to the employee about their performance. Effective performance management would therefore identify early indications and patterns in behaviour that there is a problem, so enabling this to be discussed.

There could be a number of reasons for poor performance. The first of these is a poor recruitment decision: in simple terms, the person does not have the capabilities for the role they were selected for. The manager should be aware that the person may have a number of capabilities that are just not suited to this role. Given the cost of separation and recruitment, if the person has capabilities suited to another role, moving a person is certainly an option a manager should explore.

Related to this is a change in the nature of the role that does not match the employee’s capabilities. In this instance, the employee has not been able to adapt sufficiently to a change in role or may not have been provided with the necessary support to do so.

The second is unclear expectations, where there is a lack of a Performance Plan or the employee’s Performance Plan is of poor quality. This may be because the Plan is not sufficiently explicit or not well aligned to the position, perhaps because it is too generic. This often occurs when the Performance Plan has not been discussed with the employee.

The third cause may be personal issues.

On the other hand, some performance issues result from failures in management. Chief amongst these are poor supervision, failure to provide communication about the role and lack of targeted training and support. The best thing about management failures is that these should be the easiest for a manager to address.

It is important to identify the cause or causes of poor performance as the aim is to address these causes and assist the employee to meet the performance expectations for the role.

To be effective, the manager needs to raise the specific performance issues with the employee when they occur. This includes providing specific objective examples of the performance issues and their consequences. The manager should ask the employee’s response to these issues so there is an opportunity the possible causes for poor performance with a view to assisting the employee to meet performance expectations…a win/win outcome.

These are difficult conversations for any manager to have with an employee so it is important to discuss the issue and the approach with their HR partner before having the conversation. The manager should also make their own manager aware of this situation.

Contributor:  Trish Kelly is a Sydney-based executive coach who was the General Manager Human Resources for 8 years in the NSW Department of Education and Communities. Trish is an experienced leader, change manager and facilitator with over 30 years’ experience in the public sector. Trish’s executive coaching expertise is available in Sydney, Wollongong, Newcastle, throughout NSW and Australia-wide by arrangement.

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