A Manager’s Checklist for Dealing with Low Performers

low performers Annual performance review time is right around the corner for many companies, and for most managers and employees, the process will be smooth, positive, and largely ceremonial. But in every department, managers face a few performance reviews that keep them awake at night with dread. Low performers tend to induce a series of mild headaches throughout the year, but at review time, they really put their supervisor’s managerial skills to the test. Here’s a list of ways to get over the hurdles and navigate the challenges presented by struggling employees.

Check #1: First, accurate and well-documented performance records will be critical during this season. Before you begin even thinking about performance issues, you have to be sure that they exist. What records do you have to support the verdict? Have you gathered 360° data that reveals a performance gap? Do historical reviews indicate this is an isolated incident or a trend? All very important questions that must be answered.  Upgrading your performance management system to one that can handle year-round journaling, post-review coaching checklists and timelines, multiple assessment models, data analysis, skill deployment, training records, and goal management is vital for managers to keep detailed records of employee performance issues. emPerform can support these initiatives and keep both managers and employees on track to success.

Check #2: Second, plan ahead. Collect employee self-assessments and script your most challenging conversations around the information they reveal. The best way to tactfully launch a discussion of low performance is to get the employee to agree that performance issues exist. This may be the most difficult part of the discussion, so don’t go in cold. Hopefully a performance review doesn’t reveal any new performance issues but instead reinforces the existence of the issues. Once the employee and manager are on the same page and recognize the problem clearly, encourage the employee to suggest possible solutions. This will give the employee a sense of control over the process, which can support a better outcome.

Check #3: Carefully create a step-by-step performance improvement plan that allows the employee to gain the training that he or she may lack. Make sure the employee is provided with every resource needed for growth and success.

Check #4: Arrange a check-in schedule so the manager and employee can meet on a regular basis and maintain steady progress to an agreed-upon goal.  Be ready to take action if the check-in meetings suggest that progress has gone astray. Having an automated system for tracking the real-time status of development goals and milestones is a big time-saver and ensures employees can be coached if they veer off track.

Check #5: It is crucial that managers have a detailed plan of what actions to take for all scenarios. What if the employee improves drastically? Is there a reward program in place to keep them engaged and satisfied? What if after extensive coaching and development, the employee is still struggling in their role? Do you have a plan to shift them in the organization to a more suitable position or are you prepared to terminate their place at the company – and more importantly, do you have the documentation ready to backup that decision? Managers must ensure that adequate performance is defined and the consequences for falling short are quantified and understood by both parties.

Check #6: Finally, be sure to breathe. Not all employees can be super-stars and dealing with performance issues is just part of the gig. Don’t be scared to ask for help if you are not sure how to proceed with a particular employee. Ultimately, it is your duty to ensure that all employees, regardless of their performance, are given the best shot at success.