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Use this page to help you address and manage poor performance in the people you manage.
For guidance on managing poor performance during a probationary period, see our information on induction and probation.
You can support the people you manage to perform well by:
For guidance on how to get this right, read our step-by-step guide on managing performance.
Despite putting these measures in place, you may find that someone you manage isn’t performing to the level you’d expect.
If this happens, it’s important to address poor performance as soon as you notice it. If you don’t, you’re letting the employee down by failing to clarify where they need to improve – and their performance is unlikely to change.
Your first steps will be to clarify the performance standards you expect to see, and to provide support and coaching. It may be that you haven’t been clear enough about your expectations. In many cases, an individual's performance will improve once they understand the standards they’re expected to meet, and they’ve received the right support or training.
NCVO trusted supplier Atkinson HR provides a downloadable guide on how to have energising coaching conversations.
If the performance problems persist, you’ll need to conduct an informal meeting with the individual to discuss your concerns. Use the steps below to guide you.
It may help to:
For more tips, read our guidance on giving effective feedback.
Try something like: ‘I think this has been quite a difficult period with a number of challenges. The purpose of the meeting today is to look at what has gone well, what not so well and how we can deal with any difficulties.’
Try and keep the meeting supportive and not adversarial – you’re trying to look for ways to improve the employee’s performance and you’ll achieve this most effectively if the discussion remains constructive.
You should ask the employee to give feedback (self-appraise) on their own performance. However, sometimes when an employee is not performing well, they may be defensive and unwilling to give a view on their performance. They may also not realise there’s a problem. Give the employee the opportunity to self-appraise, but be prepared to be more directive in giving feedback if needed.
You should also give the employee the opportunity to explain any reasons for difficulties in doing their job – there may be personal circumstances you’re not aware of for example.
Give specific instances of concern and concentrate on the employee’s performance, not personality. For example, ‘you take a slapdash approach to your work’ is not only likely to invoke a defensive response of ‘no I don’t!’, it’s also not specific.
It’s much better to give examples, such as: ‘I’m concerned that on Friday, you didn’t send out all the documentation to the conference delegates. As a result, they had less than a week to register for the conference. We spoke about this at the time, and I want to discuss how things have gone since then’. This gives you the opportunity either to confirm that improvements have occurred, or that the same behaviour is being displayed. Either way, you should continue to give specific examples for discussion.
Think about what the employee can cope with – if they’ve taken on board your point, you may not need to give further examples of poor performance.
Be specific about:
Sometimes, certain behaviours might be causing the poor performance. You might therefore want to develop some objectives about behaviour, as well as about specific tasks you’d like the individual to achieve.
For example, if communication’s a problem, the objectives might be:
You must also be clear what will happen if performance doesn’t improve over the review period. Be clear if you’ll need to proceed to a formal meeting if the individual’s performance doesn’t improve.
Your notes need to set out:
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If the individual’s performance doesn’t improve in the time you set, you may need to follow your formal disciplinary procedure, on the grounds of poor performance.
First, send or give the employee a letter setting out your specific concerns about their performance. The letter should invite the employee to a meeting to discuss these concerns. The employee has the right to be accompanied by a work colleague or trade union representative at the meeting.
At the meeting, you should:
After the meeting and after considering the employee’s views, you may decide to issue a performance improvement note/first formal warning. This would be the first stage of your disciplinary procedure.
The performance improvement note should set out:
The employee should be informed in writing that:
The employee should be given the right to appeal the decision.
Keep a copy of the improvement note. You can use it as the basis for monitoring and reviewing your employee’s performance over the timescale you’ve set.
If you follow these steps but your employee’s performance doesn’t improve and you can’t redeploy them to another more suitable role (or they don’t agree to this), you can dismiss them on the grounds of capability.
Dismissal without prior warnings is unlikely to be found to be fair in an employment tribunal, so it’s important to follow these steps and your own disciplinary or capability procedure.
If there’s a more junior job that the employee may be able and willing to do, you could discuss this with them as an alternative to dismissal. However, this move would need to be by mutual agreement. Any changes to an employee’s role should be documented in writing.
Last reviewed: 01 August 2022Help us improve this content
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