For excellent performance, manage poor performance

Many writers comment on what you need to do to be a high performing organisation.  Whilst many of their comments have some validity, to me the biggest single determinant of high performance organisations is whether they address poor performance – or accept/avoid addressing it.

In my view you cannot be a well led, high performing organisation without dealing head on with poor performance. Note that I don’t use the words poor performer. There are many reasons for poor performance and most are not a poor performer.

And that, of course, is the challenge!  How do you know the real reasons for the poor performance? I have written before on the need for role clarity, and provided tools to help define job roles. I have also written on the need to address poor performance but none of these actually tell you how to actually do it – how to manage it, what to say, when and how.

The challenge is that this is not a simple theoretical exercise. It is something that always involves people, emotions and sometimes remaining rationale/objective, despite high emotions and conflict.  Knowing exactly what to say and when is tricky. Exactly how should you handle the interpersonal in order to have the greatest chance of successfully turning around the individual? Without fudging the need for performance and whilst ensuring that if you regretfully do have to manage someone out of the organisation, you can do so whilst knowing you have done everything you could reasonably have done to avoid it?

There is plenty of advice around how to deal with the legalities, but rarely do you come across guidance on exactly what to say and how. Which is why I love the the “3 point turn technique for getting people to act in their best interests” set out by my friend Ian Berry in the following article:

Phase one

Agreement between you and your staff member/employee concerning goals and the strategies to achieve them is a must have for leading and managing performance. A further must have is to make sure that these agreements are in writing. A further still must have is to ensure alignment between all individual goals and strategies and your own. When goals aren’t achieved use the following technique:

Step 1

Make an appointment to see the individual and state the purpose is to review their goal achievement plan.

Step 2

At the beginning of the appointment, make it clear that the sole purpose of this meeting is to review progress towards achieving goals.

Step 3

Reiterate agreements (e.g. I understand we had an agreement that you would fulfil two productive appointments with prospects each working day) and confirm this is your staff member/employees understanding by asking: is this your understanding?

Step 4

Ask: What has happened? Our records show you are only fulfilling 1 appointment per working day. (Silence)

Step 5

Ask: What do you need to do to get back on track? (Silence)

Step 6

Ask: Anything I can do to help/support/encourage? (Silence)

Step 7

Ask: Anything else?

Step 8

Summarise new agreement in writing and both sign it.

Why doing the above can be really useful:

There are two main reasons people fail to achieve goals:

One: they didn’t really have goals in the first place.
Two: for some reason focus on strategies has waned.  This technique will remove both these issues.

Most people are driven by goal achievement.  This technique acts as a reminder of this.

Phase two

Only proceed with this phase if you have completed phase one on more than one occasion with the same individual.

Business meeting

Step 1

Make an appointment to see the individual and state the purpose is to review their goal achievement plan.

Step 2

At the beginning of the appointment, make it clear that the sole purpose of this meeting is to review progress towards achieving goals.

Step 3

Reiterate agreements (e.g. I understand we had an agreement that you would always let me know well in advance if you felt you were having trouble meeting our agreed deadlines on month end reports) and confirm this is your staff member/employees understanding by asking: is this your understanding?

Business meeting

Step 4

Ask: What has happened?  We missed deadlines on five out of the nine reports.  (Silence)

Step 5

Ask: What do you need to do to ensure this doesn’t happen again? (Silence)

Step 6

Ask: Anything I can do to help/support/encourage? (Silence)

Step 7

Ask: Anything else?

Step 8

Ask: What are the possible negative consequences for you of not following through this time? (Silence)

Step 9

Summarise new agreement in writing and both sign it.

Why doing the above can be really useful:

  • Your staff member/employee will understand there are possible negative consequences for them for not being responsible and accountable.
  • Your staff member/employee has been reminded of the necessary commitment required to fulfil their role to the best of their ability.

Phase three

At various times in our lives we need tough love. Only proceed with this phase if your staff member/employee has totally failed to fulfil the agreement you reached in phase two, otherwise repeat phase two.

Step 1

Make an appointment to see the individual and state the purpose is to review your last written agreement.

Step 2

At the beginning of the appointment, make it clear that the sole purpose of this meeting is to review this agreement.

Step 3

Place the written agreement in front of your staff member/employee and state: “from my perspective you have failed to fulfil this agreement.  Is there any reason why I should not proceed with writing you a warning letter?” (or whatever is legal in your state, territory, or country) (Silence)

If your staff member/employee says no:

Write the letter and begin to performance manage this person out of your organisation by following the remaining legal steps to the letter.
NB This does not necessarily mean this is the beginning of the end.  Many people recover from this and go on to become optimum performers.

If your staff member/employee’s answer is other than no, complete the following steps:

Step 4

Ask: What has happened? (if this question has not already been answered in the preceding dialogue.) Then ask: What do you need to do to ensure this never happens again? (Silence)

Step 5

Ask: Anything I can do to help/support/encourage? (Silence)

Step 6

Ask: Anything else?

Step 7

Summarise new agreement in writing and both sign it

Why the above can be really useful:

  • You have either begun the necessary process of letting a non- performing, uncommitted person go or:
  • Your staff member / employee has been reminded of the necessary commitment required to fulfil their role to the best of their ability and it is in their court to act accordingly, reinforcing the need for personal responsibility and accountability

Credit where credit is due: The above article is one of 45 tools, tips, and techniques for recruiting, engaging, and retaining great people provided in an eBook by Ian Berry.

Ian Berry's LinkedIn profile

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