Poor employee performance is an early sign of disengagement and attrition. Use our framework to identify and deal with weak performance issues before it’s too late
Poor work performance is the biggest concern for most companies as they not only affect the overall organizational productivity but also brings down employee engagement and morale.
Many managers find it difficult and uncomfortable to deal with such employees, and they either try to ignore it or rush decisions that cause more harm than good.
Tackling poor employee performance with caution and care is a crucial part of a manager's responsibility. In this article, we will discuss the following to help you get to the root of the problem and help your employees perform better.
Bad employee performance is often the indication of the employee’s inability to maintain the organization’s standard, quantity, and quality of work.
It shows that the employee is unable to meet their targets and/or engage effectively with the team.
Poor performance can be behavioral or contextual.
As a manager, your job is to understand the employee’s perspective and figure out ways to help and support them.
But as you already know, performance conversations can be tricky. Which brings us to our next section
It is important to remember that in most cases poor work performance is often unintentional. The role of a manager is to identify the exact reasons and causes behind below expectation performance. A manager needs to formulate action plans to understand the precise reasons and issues that trigger poor performance and treat the issues immediately.
However, when a person is underperforming intentionally, it becomes evident in his actions and attitude towards instructions, response, and collaboration within the team. It is mandatory to provide honest feedback and take strict disciplinary actions in such cases.
Here’s an actionable guide that will help you address the issue in a structured way —
As a manager, you must reflect and analyze the following factors before addressing poor performance issues of an employee.
Before setting up a meeting with the employee, you need to have an open mind to discuss the concerns with transparency and honesty. Do not let emotions take control of the situation and make them worse. Discuss with the employee to review the assigned roles, responsibilities, targets, and expectations to create a master plan for improving performance.
Also read: Top 10 performance review tips for managers
A manager needs to address poor work performance with necessary data and facts to support his points of concern. Jumpstart a conversation with the employee’s view on his contributions and performance in the organization. It is critical that you bring clarity to your statements and communicate it to the employee.
During the meeting, refrain from heated arguments. Instead, use a positive tone and language. The employee must feel motivated and revamped after each discussion, not frustrated and depressed.
The basis of maintaining a healthy employee-manager relationship is to practice effective communication. Even a simple email to thank the employee for his time and contribution can go a long way. Feel free to reaffirm the points discussed and expectations set.
As a general rule of thumb, after a discussion on poor work performance —
Offering additional guidance and support to the employee after the tough appraisal meetings will spark positivity and optimism. Being consistent in following up with the employee and keeping him in the loop will make him involved and focused.
Below are some of the common practices to go deeper into employee performance issues and deal with them in a better and easier way.
Poor performance is evident when the gap between expectations and realities increases, and there is a lack of productivity, consistency, and involvement.
Let us look at some of the common causes of poor work performance —
Whether intentional or not, the root causes may point to some of the internal practices and policies of the organization. You must also initiate a formal discussion to identify the underperformance causes, and offer solutions at the earliest.
When you recognize poor performance, you must address it immediately. It helps to resolve the hinges quickly and easily. Some managers find it uncomfortable to have such discussions and delay feedback. Procrastination and delay will cause disengagement and negativity.
A quarterly or monthly performance review cadence solves this issue well. You can use these review sessions to —
Also read: Top 10 performance review tips for managers
Providing honest feedback to the employees during appraisals may seem strenuous; but it is vital that the manager discusses the issues with an open mind and points out the observations clearly.
The exemplary practice is to engage in constructive discussions during the performance review process — i.e. comparing reality against expectations and pinpointing the issues with solutions.
Honest feedback will help employee self awareness and rectify the shortcomings. Having an open discussion platform with required feedback will prompt the employee to open up their part of the story, leaving room for suggestions, corrections, and improvement.
Making employees accountable for their job is the best way to improve performance at work. A team fails when an employee underperforms and is disengaged from the team. Therefore, it is mandatory to set expectations and accountabilities in the early stage itself.
An employee starts to work smart when he is held accountable for his actions. It helps build trust, reliability, and internal collaboration within the department. The group becomes more engaged and achieve when they feel comfortable and spirited to support each other to achieve a common goal.
Another way to tackle poor performance at work is to recognize employee strength and reward them as and when needed. Timely recognition will boost the employee’s spirit and help him achieve more. When there is no proper recognition of talent and strengths, employees often feel demotivated and disengaged. Therefore, you need to acknowledge the accomplishments and good attitude of the employees at times. Not only that —
A performance improvement plan is needed to guide the employee after the appraisal. It is a documented workflow designed to improve the employee's performance and align him towards a new set of expectations and goals. It outlines the quality, quantity, and level of performance expected from an employee.
An action plan outlines —
A documented plan allows you to review the action plans continually to evaluate their effectiveness and success. Evaluating employee progress once in a while and offering timely suggestions will keep them motivated and focused. It is also critical to provide emotional and professional support when needed. It boosts their confidence and prompts them to come to you when in need.
Managers can use KPIs, appraisal forms, feedbacks, excel sheets, and PIP programs to track performance improvement to an extent. But having proper software to track the performance will be an added advantage. The software will automate the process with performance histories, review templates, check-in recommendations and other alerts.
Check out the 8 top performance management software in the market today (includes a buyer’s guide as well)
Clear organizational policies and practices will help the manager perform better. It will empower the manager to speak to the underperforming employees openly without emotional commotion.
A manager must convey criticism and dissatisfaction to the employees with honesty. It is your duty as a manager and your obligation to the company.
Honest opinions may trigger discomfort initially but will blend in gradually and open a platform for improvement. Strict disciplinary actions must be part of the policy that must be executed without discrimination or partiality.
Disciplinary actions may include oral warning, written warning, pay cuts, dismissal of incentives and perks, and termination of employment eventually.
The manager must not hesitate to take appropriate actions at the right time as it ultimately helps the organization improve its productivity and overall performance.
Each employee has a significant role in the success and failure of any organization. Therefore, it is the fundamental responsibility of a manager to identify underperformers without hesitation. Poor performance of an employee will bring failure to the team. Poor performance of the team will eventually add to the breakdown of the organization. Therefore, the sooner you deal with performance issues the better it is.
When it comes to performance review, there are several aspects you need to focus on, including when to conduct, how to conduct, etc. One important aspect that deserves due recognition is the use of performance rating scales. There are schools of thoughts on both sides of the discussion on using vs not using it. However, if used strategically, a performance rating scale can effectively make the employee performance review process smoother. Through this article we will cover:
While preparing your organization for a performance review, you might find yourself conflicted about whether or not you should use a rating scale. A performance rating scale is highly effective in gauging an employee’s performance from a quantitative perspective, but has limited scope when it comes to evaluating performance qualitatively.
Therefore, we have identified the top situations and advantages of using a performance rating scale as well as when you should not be using them.
You should use a performance rating scale when you need to:
Based on the use case above, here are a few advantages of using a performance rating scale:
Despite the diverse use cases above, a performance rating scale doesn’t have universal applicability. In fact, using a rating scale in situations it doesn’t fit may lead to a poor performance review for employees. Therefore, you should refrain from using a performance rating scale when:
Here are a few disadvantages of using a performance rating scale:
Now that you have an idea when to use a performance rating scale and the various advantages and disadvantages, you need to move to the next phase of understanding how you should select the right performance rating scale.
Depending on the nature of responses to the scope and intent, there are several types of performance rating scales that you can choose from. In this section, we will help you understand the different types that you can explore and best practices to make the right choice.
Focusing solely on performance, we will discuss the top 4 types for rating scales that you can use for different situations.
The point scale is one of the most commonly used employee rating scales used by organizations. It involves rating employee performance on a pre-decided scale across a spectrum of responses. It can range from a 3-point scale to a 10-point scale depending on the scope and the need.
For a long time, the 5-point scale was the one that most organizations relied upon. While the 3-point scale gave only a macro level view, the 10-point performance rating scale became too comprehensive. Thus, the 5-point scale maintained a balance of being detailed but not overwhelming, where identifying differences between the points was difficult.
The points on your point scale can be numbers or numerals with each number having a corresponding meaning. Alternatively, it could be words like Average, Above Average, Exceptional, etc. to indicate performance levels.
In the most recent times, there has been a rise of the 4-point scale which focuses on eliminating the neutral or the middle option which is often seen as an easy way out that requires no further explanation.
Another common performance rating scale that many organizations use is the Likert scale. Like the point scale, it generally has 5 parameters on the scale. However, the difference lies in the value of the parameters. They are always written and the same for all questions.
The five options on the Likert scale include
Strongly Disagree-Disagree-Neither Agree Nor Disagree-Agree-Strongly Agree
While the normal range is five options, it can range from 3 to 7 depending on the context and performance parameters.
The Likert scale can be used as a matrix with statements on one side and the scale options on the other and can run like a list for performance review. An effective Likert rating scale generally has an equal number of positive and negative outcomes with a neutral option in between.
This is a reinvention of the point scale which changes the balance of the positive versus the negative options. Generally, a point scale has an equal number of options that indicate that performance needs improvement and for a job well done. However, many organizations claim that a limited number of options on the positive side make it difficult for them to distinguish between good performers and top performers.
In most cases, if there are 5 options, with one neutral in the center, there are only two options indicating good performance. Generally, these two options are unable to capture the performance rating for those 1-2% employees who set new expectations and a bar for performance. Invariably, their exceptional performance fails to get noticed and rewarded and is equated with the good performance of other employees.
To bridge this gap, many organizations are using a performance rating scale which increases the above average performance spread. The scale for below average performance is limited to one, which can be substantiated with qualitative feedback. On the other hand, the scale focuses on more above average performance options.
Finally, when it comes to a performance rating scale for interpersonal skills, the frequency scale is most sought after. Like most scales, it consists of a statement, followed by a few options. However, the nature and scope of the statement and options is what makes a difference.
On the statement front, instead of directly asking whether an employee manifests a particular skill or quality, it focuses on a behavior that comes as a result of personalizing that skill. For instance, instead of inquiring if the person has good communication skills, the focus should be on behavioral aspects like display of active listening, ability to articulate thoughts, confidence of presenting in front of a group, etc.
The options, on the other hand, seek to understand how frequently that behavior has been observed. The idea is to gauge whether the employee has been consistently displaying the desired behaviors or is there a particular pattern to it or if it has just been observed as an off chance.
The employee starts and ends meetings on time and runs them with a concrete agenda
This question can help gauge the time management, organization and planning skills for an employee, without directly asking the question.
As you have seen above, your performance rating scale can have options in the form of words or numbers. However, choosing which way to go can have an impact on the overall efficacy of the performance review process. It is best to use a rating scale with words over numbers because it is:
However, you can still use the number rating scales to review performance in situations where you need an absolute rating or when there is a clear and uniform understanding of what each number represents.
Working with multiple growing organizations over the years, we have been able to identify a few tips and tricks that can help you select the right employee rating scale for your next performance review.
As a growing organization, choosing a 4 or 5-point performance rating scale makes sense because, it:
To augment the efficacy of your performance review rating scale, choose one which provides options in words or a description over numbers to:
Almost all performance rating scales are vulnerable to biases both in their scope and nature as well as for the rater themselves. Thus, when you pick a rating scale, you need to be aware about the potential biases and have remedial actions in place to ensure that they don’t give you an unauthentic picture of the overall performance. We will talk about some of the common pitfalls and biases in the next section for greater clarity.
When you choose a performance rating scale, you need to ensure that the difference in options is very clear and not ambiguous for the raters to figure out on their own. There are several aspects to it:
Next, it is very important to use the right words in the statements and options that you choose. When it comes to the options, make sure there is a clear index of what each option means, especially if it is numeric. This index must be shared with all the stakeholder, the raters, those analyzing the results as well as the employees.
Similarly, the questions should be very specific on one performance aspect. For instance, if you combine performance on communication and punctuality, it might lead to a lot of confusion. An employee might have great communication skills, but may not be punctual and thus, addressing them in the same question will be difficult. Furthermore, even aspects within the same performance parameter like active listening and ability to present in a large group can be separate.
Now, let’s look at some of the common biases a performance rating scale might be vulnerable to that you need to be aware of and try to avoid to the maximum extent possible:
As discussed above as well, the definition for options can be significantly different even when they are descriptive. This is so because all of us have different notions for each term. For instance, a manager might award an exceptional rating to some of his/her employees because they have been performing consistently well and that’s how they define exceptional. On the other hand, the bar for perfectionism might be too high for another, leading to a lower incidence of being awarded exceptional. Similarly, in instances where the options talk about meets or exceeds expectations, bias on what the expectations are can set in.
How to prevent this: The easiest way to prevent the definition bias is to have very clear definitions for all options which are communicated time and again to all.
The leniency bias occurs when the rater tends to give a more lenient or positive rating to an employee than what the performance actually begets. This can be seen when the rating is more on the positive side. Mostly the reason is that managers don’t want to demotivate their employees with a lower rating and, thus, end up giving a higher rating, which may not be a true reflection of the performance.
How to prevent this: Leverage a performance rating scale which increases the above average spread and talks about different aspects like top performers, outstanding, etc. This will ensure that decent performance is ranged at above average while exceptional ones have a separate rating.
Numbers can have different meanings for different raters in a rating scale. While each number can have a different meaning, the entire spectrum can be also looked at from two lenses. For instance, on a scale of 1-10, both 1 and 10 can be perceived as the top or the bottom.
How to prevent this: Similar to the definition bias, the numeric bias for a performance rating scale can be prevented by using a clear index which clearly illustrates how the spectrum works and a definition against each number.
This is a very common bias when it comes to using a performance rating scale. Here, the rater tends to select the neutral or the central option to avoid any conflict or external explanation. More often than not, poor performance needs to be substantiated with improvement actions while high performance needs to be supplemented with evidence and rewards. To avoid any such actions, some raters take the easy way out, which doesn’t help differentiating between high and low performers.
How to prevent this: The easiest way to prevent the centrality bias is to remove the center or the neutral option. As shared above, you can simply go for a 4-point scale which doesn’t have a neutral option and thus, the rater has to distinguish between high and low performers.
If you are dealing with consistent poor performance issues within your team, this article on Performance Improvement Plan might help.
Invariably, you will have a statement or a question which will become the basis of the ratings for your managers. This final section will focus on the different nuances around performance rating scale questions that you must be aware of.
Let’s start with a basic understanding of how to choose the questions for your performance review rating scale which can help you yield the best responses. To make the right choice, you must ensure that your questions are:
Read 150+ performance review phrases to find a diverse set of questions and statements for your rating scale across 17 employee qualities
Before we conclude, here are some examples of common questions you can use for different types of performance rating scales. These questions can help you understand which scale is most appropriate for you depending on the situation.
While there are different views on whether or not a performance rating scale is the best tool to measure employee performance, there is no doubt about the merits it brings along. Therefore, it is critical for organizations to leverage this potential. Here’s a quick revision of everything you need to know about performance rating scales:
Now that you have a comprehensive understanding about performance rating scales, you should get started with applying the same to gauge performance levels in your organization. Follow the best practices and be aware of the pitfalls to make a dent in organizational success.
“Coaching is unlocking a person's potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn, rather than teaching them.” - John Whitmore
Employee coaching is the secret tool that high performing organizations use to develop and nurture talent they already have. It supports continuous performance management by not only addressing challenges of today, but also preparing the employees to tackle what comes their way in the future.
In this article we will discuss:
Before we discuss further about how coaching can be implemented to achieve performance improvement and how managers can support the same, let’s quickly look at a few reasons that illustrate the importance of employee coaching:
On a closer look, you will see that employee coaching not only enhances employee experience leading to greater engagement and retention, but also has direct business impact with better performance, productivity and revenue.
Before we start with specific employee coaching tips, you need to understand that the same coaching approach may not work for performers across different levels in the organization. There are two sides to this understanding:
Once you have figured out different groups of performers, use this list of tips to support employee coaching at different performance levels:
When it comes to improving performance, employee coaching can help in many ways. Here are some actionable tips for you to implement easily.
To undertake the practices mentioned above, managers need to have a certain set of skills that can enable them to unlock performance for their employees. Following is a list of top skills to hone and some best practices to master the same.
For employee coaching, managers need to move away from providing solutions and towards asking the right questions. The questions should be powerful enough to help the employees think in a growth oriented direction.
While coaching is about providing guidance, it seeks to ensure that guidance and support is offered to the situation of the employee. Hence, active listening is an important skill for managers if they want to become better coaches.
Active listening involves hearing, understanding, reflecting on and responding to what the employee has to say.
Managers who seek to excel in employee coaching need to have a growth mindset with a commitment and belief for the development and success of their employees.
As a coach, managers will be exposed to many sensitivities of an employee that might be holding them back. In such a situation, empathy as a skill is extremely important to create a high level of comfort and confidence.
Finally, for managers to become a highly effective coach, the skill of consistency needs to be imbibed. The intent is to ensure that your efforts are not limited to a one off instance, rather are sustainable and scalable over time.
Drawing this article to a close, it is quite clear that employee coaching has incredible potential to skyrocket performance for any organization. However, a few things need to be kept in mind.
If you are interested in checking out more useful resources on managing employee performance, do check this out
Feedback is an integral part of creating a high performance culture. Research shows that 60% of employees reported wanting feedback on a daily or weekly basis. However, in addition to the frequency of the feedback, the content of the same is also very important.
That’s where a Start Stop Continue feedback becomes important. Instead of simply stating how the performance has been, start stop continue feedback enables managers to highlight the desirable actions and behaviors for employees and simultaneously shed light on what needs to be changed. In this article, we will discuss:
Start stop continue feedback is a highly intuitive and easy to implement feedback framework for growing organizations. It can be used for and by anyone including teams and individuals for feedback by managers and peers as well as for self reflection. Essentially, the start stop and continue feedback has three aspects or components, including:
Thus, the start stop continue feedback enables employees to receive feedback on all aspects which is constructive, appreciative and sets a ground for improvement.
Now that you understand what this framework means, let’s quickly look at why you should use it for your organization:
The start stop continue feedback is very easy to implement and does not require any specific training or upskilling. You can get started with a simple session introducing the framework. Furthermore, it can be implemented across the organization irrespective of the functional diversity, making it an all encompassing framework.
When you receive the start stop and continue feedback results, they are quite easy to interpret and put to action. Chances are seldom that you will have to read between the lines or require high level analysis, making it ideal for growing organizations with limited resources to easily improve employee performance.
The start stop continue feedback delivers clear actions that an employee needs to take to facilitate high levels of performance, preventing it from being yet another form of feedback which is generic.
Finally, the framework enables everyone to put on an analytical hat while providing feedback and come up with new and fresh ideas for better performance.
While the start stop and continue feedback framework has widespread relevance and adaptability, its impact increases in some specific situations, including:
As opposed to many other feedback frameworks, the start stop continue feedback can be sought by employees from managers and others to reach their goals in an effective manner. Here are a tips questions you can leverage while asking for start stop and continue feedback:
When it comes to giving start stop continue feedback, it is important to follow some best practices to maximize its effectiveness. At times, even when the intention is correct, managers might deliver the start stop and continue feedback in a manner that does not yield the intended impact. Use the following tips to bridge the gap from intention to impact.
As a practice, start stop continue feedback seeks to be action oriented. However, you have to make sure that the actions are specific and backed with supporting resources/ guidance on how to achieve them.
For instance, if an employee doesn’t collaborate effectively, instead of using ‘Be more collaborative or be a better team player’ as a start action, you can use:
‘You should listen to what your team members have to say more often and build a relationship with them to facilitate meaningful synergies. I would recommend connecting with them over tea/coffee breaks, start asking for help instead of doing everything on your own and even lend a helping hand once in a while.’
If you simply mention an action that an employee should start, stop or continue doing, it might not have a large scale impact. However, if you back it up with examples and evidence, you are more likely to influence their behavior.
For instance, if you tell an employee to continue upskilling himself/herself in digital marketing, it might be a good idea to illustrate why you are saying so with an example of how his/her skills have improved and the impact it has created for the organization as well as for the employee professionally.
The start stop continue feedback framework seeks to motivate employees to take necessary action and improve their performance. However, if your feedback is skewed more towards start and stop actions, the employee is likely to get demotivated, considering himself/herself as a low performer. On the flip side, if your list of continue doing far exceeds the other two, it might set unrealistic expectations in the employee about his/her level of performance, potential appraisals and might lead to overconfidence.
Finally, when you give start stop continue feedback, you need to make sure you are objectively focused on the performance around a particular goal/ area in mind. If you are talking about the interpersonal skills of an individual and you mention continuing high levels of technical efficiency, it will dilute the whole purpose. Stick to the main theme and provide feedback for the same, without being deflected around other aspects of the employee.
As mentioned above, the start stop and continue feedback can be used for teams as well as individuals. Here are a few examples for each of the two segment groups that you can consider as a starting point.
Pro tip: Start with a specific goal in mind for which you want to create the start stop continue feedback strategy
From a team perspective, here are the top 5 examples:
Here are the top examples you can use to set start stop and continue feedback specifically for individual employees based on their career trajectory and goals:
As we come to the end of our article, here is a quick template for you to help you get started with the right questions that you can add to your start stop and continue feedback strategy to ensure that all stakeholders get a fair understanding of what is expected of them.
While start stop continue feedback is the simplest way to provide actionable feedback, you need to make sure that the feedback you are giving is based on facts and not just mere opinions. Before you start your feedback session, analyze performance trends of the employee (it is even better to have it supplemented with behavioral data) as well as gather 360 degree feedback on the employee to have a qualitative understanding of the overall employee performance.