Address employee performance shortfalls effectively

One cannot rate an employee for performance shortfalls without a performance review, and all performance reviews insist that the employee is responsible for achieving agreed objectives. Employee performance is tied to organization wide targets and key performance indicators.  Words used to describe performance are monotonously repetitive.

Exceptional performance:  This employee exceeds expectations. His contribution is outstanding.

Good performance:  This employee balances his performance well, meeting objectives and requirements of the role in an adequate and proficient manner.  

Ineffective performance:   Some objectives are met, some missed, needs significant improvement. This employee needs help

Unacceptable performance:  Lack of commitment to work or performance improvement, or lack of ability.

Risher (2003) said about poor performance that the employer and management were accountable for this state of affairs.   Underperformance cannot emerge if people were effectively managed.  This is definitely so. Managers are responsible and accountable for the performance of their units and are the definite drivers of improvement of their performance, individuals and the unit as a whole. 

Here is a series of citations from well-respected researchers that point to shortcomings in the system that lead to employee performance shortfalls. You may be able to extract a few points on why employee performance shortfalls occur in the first place and how you, as a manager could address or avoid them altogether.

The manager:  ‘has a continuous role in providing support and guidance, and in oiling the organisational wheels’ (Torrington et al, 2002: 298). Providing the basis for self-development means that line managers must ensure that ‘the support and guidance people need to develop is readily available’ (Armstrong, 2009: 619). 

This points to the manager’s accessibility.  A key frustration in employees is that in spite of an expansive statement of open door policy, the manager is perceived as unapproachable by the employee.  Reasons could be many, such as too much time at meetings, extensive travel or involvement in and putting out too many fires in too many projects. Employees may end up covering problems. 

Here’s Handy’s (1989) perspective on managing underperformance: “applauding success and forgiving failure.”  Handy argues that mistakes should be used as an opportunity or learning.  

How do you handle mistakes?  If an employee feels free to talk openly about his mistakes, then it would mean the culture of the organization leads to people feeling comfortable about critiquing themselves frankly with the intent to learn. We make mistakes all the time, but good leaders would create a learning culture where employees accept the responsibility for errors and sees it as a learning opportunity instead of looking for loopholes.

Under-performers are taken through a  ‘positive process that is based on feedback throughout the year and looks forward to what can be done by individuals to overcome performance problems and, importantly, how managers can provide support and help’ (Armstrong, 2009: 634).  Armstrong continues to state that the employer should   ‘Provide the coaching, training, guidance, experience or facilities required to enable agreed actions to happen’ (Armstrong, 2009: 635).  This means that underperforming employees need immediate and frequent feedback to place them back on track.

Ibid (753) backs this theory by adding that regular interventions between supervisors and workers have the ‘effect of providing support,' making employees aware of their performance on an ongoing basis [and] lowering stress associated with uncertainty’ (ibid: 753). 

That means the manager cannot rely on the limited stand-alone annual or bi-annual appraisal. The underperforming employee could be turned around to commitment and satisfaction by an all-embracing set of management practices that include regular intervention.

 It has also been found that some line managers may gloss a weak point since elaborating it might de-motivate an employee. They may even fear personal antagonism, conflict or that a consistent low evaluation might point to the ineffectiveness of the manager to generate high performance.  

Here is another situation:  A ‘comparing employees’ effect can occur when a manager contrasts the performance of an employee against another without considering the different (more or less challenging) tasks that they are required to perform (Beardwell and Claydon, 2010: 470).

Here is another citation in respect of behaviour: Behaviourally Anchored Rating Scales (BARS) and Behavioural Observation Scales (BOS) are specific methods of linking ratings with behavior at work (Torrington, 2011: 264). Armstrong (2009: 634) suggests that organizations might retain ratings because they believe that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.  This area is deep, though. Bias might surface for many reasons, e.g. if a manager compiles a ranking by a recent high achievement of the employee irrespective of past inefficiencies.

When employee underperformance is due to ill health, it could be that workers fear a punitive outcome hence report to work even during illness. Ill health itself could be a result of the pressure of performance of unachievable targets or relentless micro-management. 

These citations would give fodder for thought on employee performance shortfalls and the wisdom of organizations using performance management metrics driven only by monetary outcomes.

Apart from these points, every organization has those who produce sterling outcomes as well as those who report to work merely to provide a reasonably satisfactory outcome but do not exert themselves unduly. Then there are those who undermine the work of the organization, who are neither committed nor inspire others.  The solution would be to focus on employees who could perform better. As for those who show consistent underperformance, the root could be that the recruitment process was flawed. The employee is not in his niche. 

Created: August 16th 2016


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