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    Managing Poor Performance: A Step-by-Step Checklist for HR Managers

    July 3, 2023

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    An HR professional detailing poor performance with a coworker.

    In Malaysia, organizations can legitimately dismiss underperforming employees. But what if you could nip poor performance in the bud? This article shares a 12-step checklist that will help you manage poor performance and navigate a complex but sometimes unavoidable situation. As an added bonus, we’ve also included six best practices that can help prevent poor performance in the first place.

    Performance reviews are amongst the most stressful chores for most staff members and managers.

    For most people, the process will be straightforward, upbeat, and primarily ceremonial albeit tedious and trite. But in every company, there are certain employee evaluations that keep HR administrators awake at night. Across the year, underperforming employees usually present HR with a series of minor issues, but during performance reviews, an HR manager's skills are tested.

    What can help you in dealing with this inevitable, unpleasant situation is being ready with a “managing poor performance” checklist.

    How Do You Manage Poor Performance

    As a human resources professional, you manage people, which makes your work unpredictable. At times, the team's overall performance and levels of productivity are going to astound you, but on other occasions, poor performance will become a challenge. If this happens, you need a strategy to turn it around.

    Entering the performance management phase with a well-thought-out plan on how to deal with poor performers can help make the process a lot lighter.

    A step-by-step checklist for managing subpar performance will address everything you need to know about overseeing underperforming staff members. This includes formal processes that can be implemented if an employee's performance fails to improve even after adequately discussing it.

    Learn More: 101 Performance Management Quotes To Inspire Employees

    10-Step Checklist to Help HR Managers Handle Underperforming Employees

    Handling underperforming employees can be a delicate issue. On the one hand, you want to encourage and guide them to work better, in line with company standards. On the other, you want to avoid ending up with disgruntled employees, accusations or bias, or workers who become even less motivated as they are overwhelmed by criticism.

    For this reason, HR managers need to follow a precise “managing poor performance” checklist that includes the following steps:

    Step 1: Define the problem

    To fix poor performance, the underlying issue has to be identifiable. This is the most essential stage; it commences by analyzing the employee's work performance.

    Observe your employee' behavior so you can collect facts and data around performance. Recognize that low performance has a direct impact on productivity. Simply stating that an employee is unproductive is ineffective when viewed as a performance issue. Use actual data and examples to show where the employee fell short and what went wrong.

    Step 2: Classify the type of underperformance

    Once the issue is defined, the HR manager has to decide between a performance management approach and disciplinary action. To make this choice, you must figure out if the poor performance is caused by a lack of capability or improper conduct.

    A lack of competence in job performance could result from ineptitude or a training requirement. Ineptitude occurs when an employee fails to carry out the job as per the employer's standards regardless of their best efforts.

    On the contrary, behavior refers to how employees handle themselves when performing their job responsibilities. Misconduct may involve violating the employer's rules and regulations, an irrational refusal to follow instructions, indifference, or a refusal to cooperate.

    Step 3: Prepare for the conversation

    Abandon gossip and rumors at the door whenever you meet with the staff member to discuss their performance. Talk about specific occurrences, come prepared with emails or other supporting documentation, and highlight that what you're stating is not personal and that it is a purely professional problem that you would like to resolve.

    An objective conversation like this requires a lot of preparation, both in terms of getting the right documents and data together and preparing your mindset. That is why undertaking unconscious bias training and brushing up on your conflict resolution skills is a good idea before having such discussions.

    Step 4: Schedule and conduct the meeting

    It is vital that the meeting transpires in a private, confidential, comfortable, and non-threatening setting, free of disruptions and interruptions. Throughout the meeting, HR professionals have to:

    • Accurately outline the problem and cite specific instances
    • Describe the impact on the organization, the employee's responsibilities, or coworkers
    • Encourage the employee to respond and offer their perspective on the matter
    • Ask specific questions to comprehend their reaction to the issue at hand and the causes for its occurrence

    Refer, if possible, to previous positive actions taken by the employee to demonstrate that you recognize and value their talents. Remember to use a casual, encouraging tone and exhibit confidence in the worker's potential for change and course correction.

    Step 5: Find the root cause of underperformance

    There always exists an underlying cause for performance problems; they are never the result of random occurrences. Throughout the interview with the staff member (and probably the employee's superior), discuss the potential causes of their poor performance. Is there an aspect of the environment that hinders their performance? Are they constrained by red tape? Is the complexity of technology or obsolete software holding your employee back from giving their best performance? Is the employee a victim of intimidation or bias?

    Even domestic issues could lead to poor performance. When managing underperformance, you have to start an open dialogue to be able to determine the actual cause of the problem.

    Step 6: Document the discussion and follow- up

    Documentation is a crucial step in the “managing poor performance” checklist. Be sure to take notes during conversations concerning performance and then send an email or message officially documenting what was stated and decided upon. This also provides the employee with the opportunity to suggest modifications.

    Keep these notes, communications, and any other related documents in the employee's personnel file. These may be useful if the issue recurs, especially if there is a dispute about what was discussed or if the individual eventually files a legal claim, like an unfair termination lawsuit if they’re laid off.

    Learn More: 70 Ways to Improve Employee Engagement for HR

    Step 7: Have a second discussion to agree on a solution

    After the initial conversation, both you and the staff member must work together to come up with a solution. Individuals are typically more likely to improve their performance if they believe they contributed to this process of remedying the situation. Explore ideas by proposing open-ended queries. Ask the employee, for example, "What might we do to enhance this in the future?" Suggest potential solutions to the problem and also encourage the employee to contribute ideas.

    The HR manager must ensure that the underperforming employee comprehends what's needed to be done and must change. This will reiterate the significance of the employee's work in the larger scheme of things.

    Step 8: Outline the performance improvement plan

    The next item in the “managing poor performance” checklist is to document the agreed-upon measures in a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP).

    The document indicates the performance or behavior that calls for improvement or adjustment and outlines the steps the employee must take to improve their performance . It also specifies how this will be accomplished and lists any assistance that will be offered to the employee to help them grow and improve. The HR manager should use the PIP document to:

    • Outline what is expected of each party
    • Allow the staff member a reasonable amount of time to improve their performance
    • Schedule regular meetings to evaluate progress

    Specify clearly and ideally in a written document the potential repercussions if a worker's performance fails to improve in instances of severe or persistent underperformance. The employee, the HR manager, and the team supervisor should all maintain a copy of the performance improvement plan.

    Step 9: Put together a medium-term follow-up schedule

    It is important to create a check-in schedule so that both managers and workers can maintain steady progress toward an agreed-upon goal through periodic conversations. Using an automated system for monitoring the progress on objectives and achievements saves a substantial amount of time and ensures that employees can be guided if they deviate from the intended path.

    In addition, it is beneficial to track their achievements via a performance management software. This enables you to comprehend their true potential and figure out whether they will ultimately achieve their Performance Improvement Plan (PIP)-established performance goals.

    Step 10: Take disciplinary action, if necessary

    The most valuable aspect of performance management is that it helps employees thrive and progress while benefiting the organization. A drawback is that underperformance can only sometimes be reversed.

    When an employee refuses to cooperate with their line manager to restore their performance to an adequate level, it may be mandatory to issue a written warning and launch an official disciplinary process that could lead to reassignment or termination. Companies should look for the silver lining in situations like these; if the employee is not a good fit, a more acceptable and motivated employee could potentially fill the vacancy.

    Learn More: Performance Management to Arrest Attrition

    Optimizing HR Processes for Managing Poor Performance: 6 Best Practices

    Coming to terms with an underperforming employee is never easy – but you can improve the outcomes with a set of best practices that complement the “managing poor performance” checklist.

    1. Train managers to deal with poor performance

    In order for employers to increase general productivity and performance, managers must have the abilities and trust necessary to confront underperformance head-on. Some managers might postpone tackling performance issues until the annual review session, but this doesn’t help anyone involved. Ensuring that all supervisors undergo training to identify performance dips and roll out PIPs is one way to achieve this. Each time you have a new manager on the team, ensure that they’re given the training and resources they need to deal with poor performance in their teams.

    2. Identify and nip performance issues in the bud

    Early identification and resolution of performance management issues is important. If this does not happen, the employee may conclude that their inadequate degree of performance is permissible. This might make it far harder for HR managers to address the problem in the future.

    3. Set comfortable PIP timelines

    As a rule of thumb, HR administrators have to offer a way for underperforming employees to grow and develop. Typically, this means that the organization will have to offer appropriate training and support. However, improvement won’t happen immediately. A reasonable PIP typically requires several weeks or months. A subsequent layoff is likely to be deemed as unfair if companies fail to adhere to an equitable process or give employees an adequate chance – or sufficient encouragement – to improve.

    4. Factor in any extenuating circumstances

    When developing the PIP, consider any mitigating circumstances that may be affecting the employee negatively. This could include, for instance, ailments, personal problems, inadequate supervision, a heavy workload, etc. Before taking action against the employee, the company must consider any factors that are within its control or which may have created unforeseen circumstances for the individual. 5. Build a culture of accountability

    When underperforming employees realize their work's importance, they're more likely to take full ownership of their actions and work hard in making team efforts successful. Team members are also more likely to work hard when they know the rest of the team is counting on their performance to meet collective goals.

    6. Take advantage of an underperforming employees’ strengths

    Keeping track of employees through performance management software is not only beneficial for preventing performance problems. It also enables you to track upward trends and focus on strengths. Rather than simply dismissing an employee as a poor performer, you can redirect their strengths elsewhere. For example, a person may struggle with administrative skills but have incredibly strong communication skills that could benefit your business, and you could move the person to a role that matches their skills.

    Learn More: 22 Reasons Why Your Performance Management System May Be Failing


    Managing poor performance can be tricky, especially in Malaysia, where underperforming employees can be subject to dismissal. However, such disciplinary action is a drastic step, and HR professionals should first go through all the steps in our “managing poor performance” checklist. When handled correctly, not only can underperforming workers improve, but they may emerge as an essential source of productivity and motivation in your company.

    Use a performance management system to stem poor performance. Schedule a demo with Darwinbox today!

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