Guest article supplied by Stella Marshall - Starry1HRconsulting www.starry1hrconsulting.co.uk


Avoiding poor work standards can demotivate other staff and be costly to your business and reputation. It is a common complaint from my clients and action is often left too late when behaviours have already become entrenched. Managers faced with difficult conversations and potentially litigious staff often avoid dealing with it in the hope that it will go away, or they don’t handle it very well.

So here are my 7 steps to help you on your way to tackle poor performance effectively:

  1. Assess Capability or Culpability?
    Capability is about performance, Culpability is a disciplinary matter. If the quality of the employee’s work is a cause for concern, you need to assess their capability to do the job. This means monitoring and assessing their skills, ability, aptitude and knowledge in relation their role. Poor performance is one of the potentially fair reasons for dismissal, provided that a fair capability procedure, or disciplinary procedure has been followed, but do not confuse incapability with misconduct.
  2. Set Clear Standards
    Ensure that your employees know your organisation’s minimum standards for performance at work. Put in place clear job descriptions, rules and guidelines. Be precise. If you can’t explain exactly what you want your employees to deliver, you’ll have a problem explaining to an employment tribunal why you have reasonable belief that a dismissed employee was incompetent.
  3. Provide Feedback
    Regular objective feedback is key to addressing performance problems. Be friendly, fair and reasonable but keep a degree of separation from your employees. In addition to the exchanges that take place during the working day, meet with employees regularly (every 3 months) to discuss performance and to give and receive informal feedback. These meetings are useful for reiterating standards, providing relevant information and establishing agreements and expectations on both sides. Don’t save up a list of problems and wait until the annual appraisal to talk about them.
  4. Don’t Delay
    Act as soon as you notice an employee is not performing work to the required standard. This is particularly important in the probationary period. Delaying or doing nothing may make the performance problem worse and turn your headache into a migraine!
  5. Focus on the Facts
    Investigating will help you collate an accurate picture of the employee’s performance. The first steps will normally be informal. Discuss the matter with the employee, giving specific examples and how you expect that performance to be improved. Create a performance Improvement Plan (PIP) together and ensure you have the necessary support measures in place.
  6. Give time to improve
    Allow the employee reasonable time to improve. Two or three months is appropriate in most cases. If there’s insufficient improvement, move to the formal capability procedure and ensure all procedural elements, such as right to be accompanied, are observed. The PIP should continue along the formal process.
  7. Clarify duty to act
    Some employees may respond to their performance being challenged by submitting a grievance, citing bullying and harassment. When faced with this, many managers abandon the whole thing. To avoid opportunistic harassment complaints, ensure your policies and procedures or staff handbook set out that managers have a right and duty to manage. Provide evidence of poor work performance and ask why they think they are being bullied. Putting the onus back on the employee helps to hold them to account.


Stella Marshall Chartered Member MCIPD
HR Consultant & Career Coach