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7 steps for dealing with poor performance in a growing business

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When you are trying to reach a high-performance level in your business – a catapult for growth – you are only as strong as your weakest member. Dealing with somebody in your team who doesn’t live up to the standards you require is difficult, both legally and ethically. Before you show an employee the red card, be sure you have tried everything that is expected from you, the employer, to guide them and push their performance to a higher level. To deal with the matter correctly, there are a few steps to follow:

1. Informal conversation(s) 

Your starting point for resolving issues should be to deal with them early and informally. Sit down and discuss your concerns with the employee. Use these meetings to try to encourage and develop the behaviour/performance you want.

Never automatically assume that the employee is at fault. Investigate the causes of poor performance before deciding what action to take. Your aim should always be to help the employee bring their performance up to standard. 

2. Offer support

Where your conversation reveals a cause that is not the fault of the employee, your initial response should be to offer help and support. Regularly monitor performance, referencing the objectives and timescales agreed, where appropriate. You should offer ongoing support, even after the discussion; and keep records and notes of all informal discussions.

3. Performance review meeting

If, following informal discussion and support, and from monitoring the employee’s performance, you do not feel improvements have been made you will need to follow a formal capability procedure. This procedure provides for a series of performance review meetings with the employee following which formal warnings may be issued.

You must give the employee at least 48 hours’ notice of a performance review meeting and ensure the arrangements are handled with discretion and confidentiality.
Make sure you are accompanied at the meeting by a colleague or HR representative. His/her role is to support you and take accurate notes of the meeting, enabling you to focus on handling the session fairly and appropriately.

4. Decision and sanction

Consider the facts and information collated at the meeting, decide on a course of action and the appropriate level of sanction. Where performance issues are identified, consider the appropriate sanction and ensure you have a clear view of all the facts.

Levels of sanction include:

First written warning

This is normally the appropriate action after a first formal meeting. 

Final written warning

You need to consider a final written warning if a first written warning has previously been issued and if there is still no improvement in the employee’s performance.

Dismissal

If, after issuing a final warning and conducting a final formal meeting (usually the third formal performance review meeting), there has not been sufficient improvement in performance, you may decide that dismissal is an appropriate course of action. If the capability procedure allows, consideration should also be given to whether or not an alternative sanction may be more appropriate, eg, demotion, salary reduction, or an alternative role.

5. Inform the employee

Having decided on the appropriate sanction, communicate this to the employee both face-to-face and in writing as soon as you can. You should cover:

  • The precise nature of how the employee’s performance falls short of the required standards;
  • The level of improvement required, with timescales;
  • The specific support that will be offered to help them improve, eg, regular reviews, a performance improvement plan;
  • The consequences of failing to achieve, and maintain, improvements;
  • The length of time the warning will remain on record;
  • In a final warning, that a continued failure to meet the required standards could result in dismissal;
  • If dismissal, reasons for termination and effective date; and
  • The right of appeal.

6. Agree a performance improvement plan

Where you have issued a warning, agree a written performance improvement plan with the employee. This will help you to formally identify unsatisfactory aspects of performance, agree on where further training, coaching, or other support could improve the matter and set new objectives or reiterate existing ones. You can also agree the standards to be achieved, within clear, reasonable timescales (review periods).
Provide the employee with appropriate support to improve their performance, allowing them a sufficient and reasonable period to make progress and carefully monitor this.

7. Follow-up meeting

At the end of the agreed review period, arrange a formal follow-up meeting to discuss the employee’s progress and repeat the procedure from step three if necessary. Up to three performance review meetings should be held before dismissal is considered.

If the employee’s performance reaches a satisfactory standard within the review period and no further action is necessary, inform the employee in writing. If this is not the case then agree a further performance improvement plan and set a further period in which the employee must improve.

Finally, with any incidence of poor performance it is crucial that you follow the Acas Code of Practice on discipline and grievance and ensure that employees are treated fairly and consistently.

Julie Sillito is a solicitor with Riverview Solicitors.

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