How to manage a poor performer

Author: PM editorial | Date: 17 Feb 2016

Giving negative feedback can be difficult but regular reviews benefit everyone

No matter where they are, line managers and HR professionals find discussing poor performance a nerve-wracking affair.
And according to Darryl Parrant, group managing director for Singapore-based Align HR Consulting, many Asian businesses fail to deal with the problem adequately. “It is vital that managers have more courageous conversations with employees who are not performing,” he says. “Building high-quality teams and organisational capability is a key priority for Asia, and it starts with performance improvement at individual and team levels.”
Zubin Zack, director and chief recognition strategist at O.C. Tanner India, recognises that giving negative feedback to employees can be difficult. But he points out that managing performance continuously, not just addressing issues when they occur or once a year as part of a performance review, makes the process much easier.
“Performance should be an ongoing discussion, which starts as soon as a member of staff joins an organisation by outlining and agreeing goals and expectations between them and the line manager,” he says.
Both Parrant and Zack recommend the ‘sandwich approach’ to discussing poor performance. With this method, you give the employee some positive feedback, followed by what you would like to see improved and ending with something positive. “Always finish with a motivational comment to encourage them to want to improve, rather than a negative, which will demotivate them,” Parrant says.
“Try asking the person rather than telling them. For example, ‘do you know what I would like to talk to you about?’ or ‘can you help me understand how I can help you with this performance situation?’ It’s vital not to criticise the person directly. Focus on the behaviour, so it’s easier for the listener to absorb.”
He suggests employing phrases such as ‘we can work on the next report together so you better understand what I expect from you’ and recommends showing vulnerability (for example, ‘when I was in your position I also made mistakes’).
Zack highlights the need for managers to be confident in having tricky conversations, and says having clear performance objectives in place can assist this. “Talk through where they are now and where they need to get to. It’s important that it is a two-way conversation and not a ‘telling off’, so discuss why there are gaps and how you can resolve them together. Conclude the conversation by agreeing actions and a timescale to achieve them. If you keep the discussion professional and fact-based, there will be no reason for the employee to become argumentative or defensive.”
Offering training and mentoring can sometimes be appropriate, but, whatever action is taken, Parrant believes it is important to give the employee hope. “Change will only come from inspiration, hope, aspirations and goals, delivered with passion and conviction. Anyone giving performance feedback or having a courageous conversation always needs to show a level of collaboration, so the employee feels they have support and purpose to want to improve.”