Goodbye Poor Employee Performance: Learn How to Diagnose and Address It Effectively
Are poor performers bringing down your team's productivity and morale?
Addressing poor performance is one of the most important responsibilities you have as an HR professional. Unfortunately, it can also be one of the most uncomfortable. Employees generally do not enjoy criticism, which can lead to contention.
Don't let subpar performance become the new normal. It's time to say goodbye to poor employee performance for good.
In this article, we'll show you how to effectively diagnose the root cause of poor performance and provide practical tips for addressing it in a way that will lead to improvement without harming morale.
While there is no fun way to tell someone they are underperforming, you will learn how to frame the conversation in a positive, helpful way that employees will appreciate.
Say hello to a more productive and successful team!
🔄 What is negative performance feedback?
Negative performance feedback identifies areas where an employee needs improvement, usually in the speed or quality of their work. The conversation may be uncomfortable, but it can be necessary to find the root cause and solve it.
Management and employees both dread negative performance feedback. It can kill morale and is often an awkward conversation.
Unfortunately, it may be unavoidable when an employee is exhibiting poor performance.
Knowing how to deliver negative feedback effectively and with a positive attitude can lead to better results and a smoother conversation. Though giving poor performance feedback is inevitable in people operations, there are ways we can make it better.
What is the difference between productivity and performance?
Though related, productivity and performance should not be confused.
An employee can have good productivity but poor performance. The other way around is improbable.
Productivity is generally a measure of quantity, in other words, the amount of work that an employee has completed.
On the other hand, performance relies on many factors but is more of a quality of work measure.
An employee can produce a lot of work (showing high productivity). However, if the quality of that work is low, their performance can still be poor.
On the other hand, an employee with low productivity is unlikely to be able to perform well.
🩺 How to diagnose poor performance
Identifying poor performance may seem obvious, but there is a right and wrong way to do it. To properly diagnose poor performance, you need to be measuring it.
Measuring performance requires you to set clear expectations and goals, then track them to see whether employees are meeting them.
🚨 Beware: Without a system in place for objectively measuring performance, management can fall into bad habits of subjective reviews.
Trying to gauge performance without data to support it can give incomplete viewpoints and be influenced by personality traits or other unrelated factors.
Goals and expectations are essential not only for management to be able to measure performance but also for employees to understand their roles. For a team to perform well, remember this formula:
High Performance = Clear Expectations x [Competence + Commitment + Supportive Climate]
As you can see, it is impossible for employees to perform at their best without clear expectations.
In fact, no amount of competence, commitment, or support is enough if an employee is confused about what to do.
➡️ Check out the other eight characteristics that make up a high-performance team.
📉 What poor performance looks like
While everyone makes mistakes, poor performance should be considered a pattern or repeatedly falling short of goals or expectations. It can be helpful to compare one employee's performance to the nearest peer when possible.
Suppose one employee is able to meet or exceed expectations while another consistently fails to do so. Try to determine why. There may be a crucial aspect differentiating the two, like experience or quality of clients, or it may simply be ability. Or, better said, lack of ability.
For employees with unique positions and goals, this can be more difficult.
In some cases, the expectations may need to be reconsidered and adjusted. For example, it may become evident that initial goals were unrealistic, which a conversation with the employee can help reveal.
If you conclude that an employee cannot meet reasonable expectations, this can be poor performance.
Performance issues, however, are not necessarily a reflection of an employee's ability.
Other causes you should consider are:
- insufficient training;
- lack of experience;
- inadequate support;
- too heavy of a workload;
- an unusually difficult task.
You should speak with the employee to determine if any of these reasons cause inadequate performance.
Tip #1: A great time to do this is during a regularly scheduled performance review.
Tip #2: Present the data showing their poor performance and discuss why they fall short of expectations.
Tip #3: Don't forget to brainstorm what you can do to change that.
🔍 6 Examples of poor performance
Performance standards can look very different for different job types and companies. However, here are some general examples of poor performance.
Not fulfilling job duties
As mentioned above, setting clear goals and expectations is key for diagnosing poor performance.
If employees are aware of their job duties and expectations yet fail to fulfill them repeatedly, they are underperforming.
Poor time management
Poor time management can cause an employee to fail to meet expectations. However, it can also be a sign of poor performance in its own right.
Suppose an employee shows they consistently make poor use of their time at work. In that case, this is a correctable form of poor performance.
Low customer satisfaction
In roles where employees must deal with customers, they must treat them helpfully and professionally.
Low customer satisfaction is an indicator of poor performance, or it simply indicates a lack of people skills.
Professionalism is an essential facet of most companies. It includes behaving properly around customers, clients, and even coworkers.
If there are repeated complaints or failures to reflect company standards, you will need to intervene.
Inadequate cooperation and communication
In some settings, inadequate cooperation or communication can cause poor performance for an entire department or company.
Suppose an employee has failed in their communication or teamwork ability multiple times. In that case, it will probably affect their and their team's performance.
Low productivity can directly lead to poor performance. Even employees with quality training and strong skills will suffer in their output if their productivity is low.
Low productivity can result from bad time management, inefficient processes, or lack of motivation.
Fortunately, you can address many of these instances of poor performance with feedback.
🤝 How to give a negative performance review in a positive way
Effective delivery of poor performance feedback requires tact and a future-looking strategy. This conversation can be uncomfortable for both parties, so do what you can to pump positivity into the conversation.
Balancing negative feedback with positive feedback is a good strategy for providing criticism without harming morale. Also, be sure to back up negative feedback with data.
Tip: Sharing concrete examples will make the conversation seem less like a personal attack and more like an objective observation.
➡️ Check out these examples for learning how to master negative employee feedback.
It is also important to frame a negative performance review as an opportunity to improve, not just an admonishment. Diagnose the roots of poor performance, along with solutions for how to solve the problem. This future-looking approach will make your desire to help obvious and, hopefully, make the employee more cooperative.
➡️ Learn how to turn a negative performance review into an opportunity to improve with these examples of constructive feedback.
With your poor performance feedback focusing on productivity, offer to review the employee's processes and look for ways to make them more efficient.
Tip: You should suggest helpful ways to improve the employee's productivity rather than just telling them to speed up.
Here are some other examples of effective ways to give negative performance feedback:
"Your output this past quarter was noticeably lower than the previous two. Has something changed that is making things more difficult or slowing down your process? I would be happy to review a few with you to look for easier methods to save you time and effort."
"Your work was really solid on the last project, but some of your team members felt like they were in the dark near the end. I understand you wanted to focus on your tasks to meet the deadline, but your slow response to emails caused delays for other team members. In the future, could you please try to prioritize answering emails at least at the beginning and end of each work day? It would be better for the company to request an extension than ignore other team members."
"While this isn't a comment on your performance, per se, there is an issue we would like to discuss. It seems like you have been distracted by some personal conversations at work lately. While we encourage you to interact and bond with your coworkers, it is unprofessional to carry on personal conversations when customers and coworkers are waiting for your assistance. When you are active with customers, you do great. We would like to see you prioritize that over personal conversations that could wait until later."
As you can see, in each of these examples, the tone is friendly and supportive wherever possible, though the underlying negativity of identifying poor performance is challenging to bury completely.
Tip: By offering support and positive feedback to balance out the negative feedback, you can keep the overall tone of the conversation neutral so as not to harm morale and keep the employee receptive to your and others' comments.
💡 3 Things to keep in mind when giving poor performance feedback
Why do managers do a poor job of providing performance feedback to their employees?
Often, it comes down to three main factors: timing, location, and follow-up.
The recommended time to give negative feedback about poor performance is soon after a related event or at the following scheduled review. The goal is to help the employee remember the occasion clearly, allowing them to provide you with the most precise recollection of related factors.
Where you share feedback is also important. Poor performance feedback should only be given in private and, ideally, in a neutral location. Regular reviews in a shared conference room are a good spot. Avoid talking about an employee's poor performance where other employees could overhear.
Tip: A best practice is to arrange a private, one-on-one meeting.
Lastly, giving feedback on poor performance is a process.
Identifying a problem is only the first step. After that, you need to find solutions and work with the employee to accomplish them.
📈 5 Tips for improving low employee performance
As discussed in the equation earlier in this article, here is a closer look at the components of high performance and tips for applying those factors to an underperforming employee.
➡️ Check out 17 other methods for improving employee performance in your organization.
1. Set clear performance goals
Without clear and achievable performance goals, employees will have more difficulty succeeding in their roles.
If an employee is underperforming, one of the first things you can do is review their performance goals to ensure they are easy to understand and reasonable to achieve.
Tip #1: Performance goals set too high will be challenging for even the most competent employees to achieve, leading to frustration and feelings of unfairness.
Tip #2: Similarly, performance goals set too low won't motivate employees to be efficient, which can lead to feelings of boredom with a lack of challenge.
Clear and reasonable performance goals (with sufficient training) are beneficial for promoting highly-efficient employees.
2. Offer support to improve performance
For employees failing to achieve clear and reasonable performance goals, supporting their ability to improve is vital.
Delivering poor performance feedback without offering any solutions for change can give the impression that the company is unwilling to invest in employee success, leaving them on their own to get better or suffer the consequences.
💡 For inspiration, check out our template for a performance improvement plan.
If there are some obvious ways you think an employee can improve their performance, suggest them.
If the problem is particularly complex, open a dialogue by asking the employee if they have any ideas of what is holding them back or how to improve their situation.
Tip: You can also consider arranging a coaching or mentoring program. Performance coaching can give you valuable insight into the difficulties they are facing that you may be unaware of.
3. Collect employee insights about motivation and job satisfaction
In addition to insights about difficulties or obstacles standing in their way, talk to the employee about their level of job satisfaction and motivation in their position. These two things are likely related and may also depend on the employee's performance.
For example, a worker unsatisfied with their position may not have the drive or motivation to strive for high performance. Reskilling and providing new goals to work toward may be all that is needed to light a fire under an employee and boost their job performance.
4. Implement 360-degree performance reviews
360-degree performance reviews are a revolutionary new way of tracking employee performance and delivering feedback. Rather than stressful annual reviews between an employee and management, 360-degree reviews poll multiple coworkers for more opinions and insight.
This method allows you to deliver continuous employee feedback from various sources, including upward and downward feedback. This way, reviews are not one-sided, and the employee will be more likely to accept the results since they provide them to others.
5. Be prepared for defensive reactions
Especially if you have not implemented 360-degree feedback, you need to be ready for various reactions from employees receiving poor feedback during performance reviews. There is a good chance that some employees will have a defensive response.
This response often stems from a fear that their low scores risk their job.
However, you can alleviate those fears by communicating your willingness and desire to help them improve their performance.
Even so, some employees could still react negatively. For example, they may feel the criticism is unfair, unwarranted, or incorrect. So it is vital to have data to back up any poor performance reviews.
Tip: It is also a good idea to balance negative comments with positive feedback reinforcement as much as possible.
The goal is to deliver constructive criticism with minimal effect on morale.
➡️ Enable a high-performance workforce with Zavvy
Zavvy has all the tools and training you need to enable a high-performance workforce. In addition to tips and guides like those found in this article, our 360-degree feedback software can completely change how you handle performance reviews.
Rather than employees dreading their regularly scheduled sit-downs with management to discuss their performance, they can receive constant feedback from team members and coworkers about what areas they excel at and what could be improved.
This decentralized feedback system is fairer, more efficient, and more effective than traditional methods.
You may think it isn't worth the trouble to switch your feedback and review methods, but once you do, you'll wonder why you waited so long. Our software makes it remarkably easy to:
- Conduct 360-degree reviews.
- Manage the results.
- Use that data to produce meaningful outcomes for your employees' performance, leadership, and career progression.
The automated process crowdsources feedback from employees you select (anonymously or not) to provide data about their level of performance and other factors you want to explore.
To learn more, schedule a free demo today.