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Performance Improvement

Updated: Oct 3, 2023


As an employer it is quite likely that at some time you will have an employee whose work performance is not up to standard, or they are struggling to come to grips with their new job.


When this occurs, you have some decisions that need to be made about what you do to help the employee lift their performance and be able to perform all the requirements of the job.


While you may have the safety net of a 90-day trial if you have 19 or fewer employees, that does not necessarily mean you should rush to terminate the trial – even though that is an option.


In a tight market where finding the right person to do the job can be time consuming and costly, you need to consider whether it is possible to save the investment you made when you employed this person and give them an opportunity to step up.


Putting aside the 90-day trial question – what you should consider is how much of the job is the person really struggling with. If they are doing most of the job and only struggling with certain parts of the job, terminating their employment may not be justified without first giving them the opportunity to improve.


If the person is struggling to do the whole job, then you need to address this with the employee. You need to remember that you have good faith obligations to the employee. Have you given them adequate training and support to help them do the job – if you haven’t then you may be in breach of your obligations to the employee.


Avoiding the performance trap

To avoid the potential for performance issues arising it pays to have a clear job description that accurately describes the duties and responsibilities of the job. A job description can also set out the expected levels and standards of performance. If these are not set out in the job description, you should at least sit down during the induction process, and clearly inform the employee of the expected levels and standards of performance and document this in an agreed performance development plan. This lets the employee know what good performance will look like and gives them clarity over how you will assess their performance.


The second aspect of having clear levels and standards of performance is that you, and the employee, are able to assess the employee’s performance and know where they are doing well and where improvement is required.


The performance development plan should also identify what training is required, who and how it will be provided, what support will be given and by whom.


Take action!

If an employee is not meeting the levels and standards of the performance development plan, then you should address this at the earliest possible time. Delaying addressing performance is tantamount to condoning poor performance.


The first step is to have an informal chat with the employee – tell them what you are seeing and remind them of your expectations. This is often enough to get an employee back on track. This discussion may also give you insight to find if the employee can or cannot perform as required because of lack of skill, information, resources, equipment or the like giving you an opportunity to fix that.


Poor performance continues.

If after having had an informal chat, the employee’s performance does not improve, then you should invite them to a performance improvement discussion. This is not a disciplinary meeting; however, the employee should be informed that if their performance does not improve disciplinary action may result.


The invite to this performance improvement discussion should inform the employee of their right to representation, and also clearly set out what you see as the performance problem.

At the meeting:

  • Check that the employee knows and understands the levels and standards of performance required of them.

  • Define the performance problem – be specific and descriptive but do not be judgemental. Explain the impact of their performance on the business, on colleagues, on customers.

  • Ask the employee if there is any problem and ask for ideas on how it could be solved.

  • Get the employee’s agreement on what needs to be done and what actions you will take to support them.

  • Agree on the timeframes for the employee to achieve the level and standard of performance required.

  • Document the agreement and timeframes in a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP)

Timeframes for improvement

The timeframe for the PIP will be determined by the performance problem. If the areas of performance problem are not complex and reasonably limited (i.e. not the whole job) then consider what a reasonable time period would be to lift the performance. In such an instance this could be a matter of weeks within which the employee has to demonstrate the required level and standard of performance.


If it is the whole job, then you may need to consider up to three months (again depending on the complexity of the job).


Where significant improvement is required, set milestones within the PIP that are based around graduated levels of improvement that you want to see achieved throughout the PIP.


Formal Meetings

Have regular catchups throughout the PIP. There should be no surprises when it comes to a formal review. If the employee is not achieving the required standard, then let them know as early as possible and tell them what they need to do to achieve it. Don’t wait for the formal review to have that discussion.


If the employee does not meet the target improvement level at the formal review, it may be necessary to consider disciplinary action. If the employee is making reasonable progress, even if just below the target, then delay any action to see if the performance corrects itself.


If, however, the performance target has not been met and there is no reasonable explanation as to why, then disciplinary action may then be taken.


If the employee is failing to demonstrate any movement toward the target at the first formal meeting, then a first formal warning for poor performance may be justified. Similarly, if the employee continues to not meet the expected target at the second meeting, a final formal warning for poor performance may be justified and if the employee is still significantly below the target by the third formal meeting, then dismissal may be the outcome.


Note: If the employee has not met the target for the third formal meeting but is marginally below the target, then you should consider an extension of time to give the employee the opportunity to achieve the target.


If the performance issue is related to only a portion of the job, you may not be able to dismiss for poor performance. Always seek professional advice before commencing disciplinary action in relation to a performance improvement plan. McKone Consultancy can assist you follow a fair and reasonable process to support you get your employee back on track.


Photo credit: Gabrielle Henderson on unsplash.com

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