Helping Employees Succeed: Managing Below-Average Performance

Helping Employees Succeed: Managing Below-Average Performance

Helping Employees Succeed: Managing Below Average Performance

Whether you work for a Fortune 500 company or a small mom-and-pop machine shop, chances are performance reviews aren’t very high up on the list of your employee’s favorite things to do at work. Whatever the shortfalls, perceived or real, of the performance management process at your organization, the angst around reviews is only magnified when working through the process with employees who receive less than stellar ratings.

No matter how this “below standard” determination is made, i.e., numeric rankings, self-appraisal, open-ended goal-oriented discussions, etc., working with these employees to move the needle back up to where it needs to be is no small task.

Defining Expectations

This might sound obvious if you are in the HR department, but for some employees, especially those that might be struggling to keep up with their job duties (whatever the reason may be), knowing what is expected of them at work on a day-to-day basis is really the first step in addressing below standard performance.

Ideally, with the right combination of ongoing communication between supervisor and employee along the way, sub-par performance can be addressed head on before it escalates to the level of requiring formal documentation during the review process.

Finding the Right Fit

If your organization conducts a traditional numeric rating type performance review, then a pre-determined progressive disciplinary process might get you back to the level of results you require of your employees. But, if you have moved to a more didactic, open-ended review process (as many organizations have in recent years), you (and your supervisors) may find it difficult to determine when certain disciplinary actions should be taken.

Instead, options like coaching, counseling, or even additional training opportunities may be a better fit for employees and supervisors alike. At most organizations, no matter what the means to the ends are, the pieces and parts are most often packaged together and presented to employees as a “Performance Improvement Plan” (PIP).

Again, what is contained in each employee’s PIP can vary widely based on the degree of the performance issue and the organizational culture, but some key features to consider including in a PIP are:

  • Specific examples of the poor performance
  • Specific steps the employee needs to take to correct the performance issues
  • A specific timeline for improvement for each step the employee must take to improve performance
  • The methods being used to support the employee during the PIP
  • How performance will be monitored during the duration of the PIP and how the reassessment will be conducted
  • What potential outcomes or consequences will follow if performance is improved or if performance does not improve

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Training Supervisors

Despite the prevalence of PIPs as a tool for assisting struggling employees and the dominant role that employers expect their supervisory staff to play in improving employee performance more generally, ERC’s research consistently finds that only about one-third of employers provide their supervisors with training related to PIPs.

A similar percentage provide supervisors with training related to “performance coaching” and even fewer organizations provide “developmental coaching” (to help avoid getting here in the first place).

Perhaps most concerning is the approximately 20% of organizations that consistently report that their supervisors receive no training in the area of performance management. Without the proper tools and knowledge base in place to leverage the performance management system at your organization both your supervisors and your struggling employees are far more likely to find themselves at odds with each other and your review process itself.

Making It Useful for Everyone

Yes, performance reviews can get a bad reputation if the process is perceived as slow, biased, or ineffective—by employees and supervisors alike.

While the goal of performance reviews isn’t to punish employees or create unnecessary friction, for employees with repeatedly negative reviews being managed by supervisors that haven’t been properly trained in how to help improve their employee’s performance, it is easy to see how frustrating the process can quickly become for all parties involved.

If approached correctly, on the supervisory side of the equation, being trained to lift up (not just punish) their most challenging direct reports can be a rewarding professional development experience.

Similarly, for employees, engaging with their supervisor in a conversation about what is most difficult for them to accomplish on their list of job duties (and figuring out why this is the case), can make a huge difference in their outlook and approach to their daily work. Ultimately, no matter how the performance management process is structured, it is critical that the journey to improved performance is a rewarding and useful one for everyone involved.

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  • Liz Maier-Liu

    Liz Maier-Liu specializes in writing high-quality, engaging copy across all channels, including email, web, blogs, print, and social media. She is passionate about helping ERC build long-lasting relationships with clients and members through storytelling and delightful copy that calls them to action.Since 2019, Liz has supported ERC’s marketing team. She currently manages ERC’s email marketing campaigns, social media accounts, marketing automation, and websites. Liz also executes content strategies that drive engagement, leads, and customer retention.