The Best Way for Managers to Deal with Employee Performance Issues? Prevent Them!

One of the most unpleasant tasks for any manager is confronting an employee who does not meet performance standards or goals. Generally speaking, there are three common reasons that employees underperform: 

  1. They are not clear about what is expected of them. 
  2. They are not aware they aren’t meeting those expectations. 
  3. They don’t know how to meet the expectations. 

To improve employee performance, managers must first identify the underlying cause. When an employee fails to meet the standards required by their role in an organization, the first step is to discuss the issue to diagnose what is not working. 

First, ask the employee to describe their role and what they are expected to accomplish daily, monthly, or annually. A candid discussion can quickly identify simple misunderstandings about assignments or duties. Managers can clarify what is expected, establish clear timelines, and determine how progress will be measured. Communication expert and Crestcom faculty member Andy Bounds advises managers to focus on the “Afters.”  When discussing objectives and goals, communicate why you want the employee to achieve certain goals, explaining the desired outcome and how it fits into the organizational goals. 

If you find the employee is clear on what is expected but was not aware they were under-performing, this is a failure to provide effective feedback as a manager.  If an employee doesn’t know they aren’t meeting objectives, they don’t know how to improve. Have candid discussions about how the employee thinks they are performing and create a clear plan for how performance will be measured and provide constructive feedback regularly. 

You might also find that an underperforming staff member lacks the proper training or knowledge needed to meet expectations. Take time to identify the skills gap and make a plan for additional training. Set up peer support with their co-workers to share knowledge and give tips about how they like to accomplish work tasks best. 

The best way for managers to deal with performance issues is to prevent them proactively. The secret to performance management is to set expectations clearly, consistently and communicate them frequently. Rather than treating performance management as an annual event performed by HR, think of it as an ongoing conversation.  

Here are four great ways to prevent performance issues: 

  1. Set clear goals and expectations. Discuss them and focus on the “afters.” 
  2. Be the coach they need—have ongoing discussions to cultivate accountability and provide regular feedback. 
  3. Focus on development for yourself and your team. Provide opportunities for professional growth to improve performance at all levels of an organization. 
  4. Celebrate accomplishments! Recognize and reward outstanding employee performance. Positive feedback is as important as constructive feedback, and celebrating great work inspires employees to do their best.