Poor work performance, whether it refers to a member of your team, a smaller group or even a whole team is, without a doubt, a top-priority issue worth-resolving early on. Consider the cumulative long-term effects it may have on your company’s overall performance; not to mention, the direct and irreversible results in current business affairs. For example, losing a critical customer due to a salesperson’s inadequate or poor work performance can also take the form of ill-chosen or ill-timed behaviors.
So, what can you do to minimize, reverse or even prevent poor work performance in your team? That’s what we’ll be discussing in what follows. But, before that, we’ll first discuss how you can identify signs, behaviors and side-effects of poor work performance.
What is poor performance in the workplace?
Though it’s a bit of a self-evident notion, it is worth putting it into words; so that we get a better understanding of what the real problem is.
Poor work performance according to Law Insider is:
[..] the inability of an employee to meet the required standards or output for the position in which she or he is employed, e.g. less than expected output or quality, failure to meet set targets, and non-conformance to reasonable or agreed standards.”
In a similar fashion, it is equally important to make a distinction between work performance and an adjacent term; productivity. Although performance is more about the proficiency involved in accomplishing said output, productivity is focused on measuring the efficiency or the quantity of output produced (whatever that output may be). In any case, both terms focus on meeting — or not — the required standards; be it a matter of quality or quantity.
Now, let’s get to the meat of our discussion and have a quick overview of examples or signs of poor work performance.
How to identify poor work performance
Poor work performance happens when employees behave in some of the following ways:
- Paying little or no attention to details and/or making mistakes in a persistent way; as opposed to the way they used to perform in the past.
- Missing — or, much worse, ignoring — deadlines, with no evident excuse.
- Mixing up — or even neglecting — given instructions, showing resistance to change and, generally, not responding to the feedback they get.
- Completing work at a slow rate, regardless of the volume of tasks assigned. And, generally, underperforming and not meeting satisfactory standards; in terms of work quality.
Now, apart from the job-related behaviors we mentioned, poor work performance may also be expressed in the way people generally act in the workplace. Behaviors, such as the ones that follow, whether intentional or unintentional — and regardless if they are noticeable or not by colleagues and managers — are signs of poor work performance, too.
- Consistent absenteeism or being late over and over again.
- Being unavailable during work hours, especially in times of remote working
- Leaving the workstation way too early, at the end of the day
- Being too loud, over-chatty, rude to teammates or disrespectful to the management team.
All in all, apart from inappropriate job-related behaviors, awkward interactions among teammates and results produced, poor work performance may also be the case when you get a feeling that employees show lack of commitment and drive.
So how can you help a team member — or an entire team — make progress and leave their poor work performance behind? To get there, we’ll first examine, in short, the root causes of such phenomena; and, then, we’ll focus on the things you can do to reverse established situations, provided that it’s feasible, per case.
So, what causes poor work performance?
Poor work performance, most of the time, stems from the following situations:
1. Inefficient management
- People poorly matched with over-demanding jobs or people promoted to new, incompatible roles.
- Withdrawing essential support and resources provided so far; leaving employees helpless and self-reliant in an ill-chosen way.
- Insufficient support, provided not only from managers, but also from cross-functional teams and colleagues.
- Not providing the required training, whenever needed.
- Lack of accountability, commitment and discipline, from both sides. Managers tolerating poor results or burning out employees, who, then, behave as described earlier.
- Confusing goals, unrealistic targets and expectations.
- Lack of feedback. Skipping meetings — critical for the employees — such as one-to-ones or meetings scheduled ad-hoc, to provide essential job-related support to the employees, whenever needed.
2. Poor company culture
In some cases, poor work performance may also stem from low motivation, which, in turn, is a byproduct of the following:
- Poor recognition or lack of trust among colleagues and/or between managers and subordinates.
- Neglection or tolerance of toxic behaviors, stemming from the established culture, as discussed here.
- Unpleasant or ill-chosen changes to the work environment and so forth.
Improving poor work performance
Now, let’s focus on the things we can do to prevent or minimize such phenomena.
The aforementioned poor work performance symptoms, undoubtedly, demonstrate the need to make improvements. As a matter of fact, you may have already thought of some courses of action you can take to make such improvements; if so, let’s validate them with our take on the matter:
1. Make sure you understand the root cause of the problem
First of all, you need to identify the root cause of each instance of poor work performance within your team. To do so, follow these steps can help:
- Discuss the issue with the person showing signs of poor work performance, in person. This way you’ll manage to better understand what lies behind. Focus on the facts and listen to their perspective.
- Jointly, agree on a plan that will help them get past any obstacles that may get in the way, as described in the next section.
- Evaluate the progress they make over time and repeat said process, if needed. In any case, once you identify behaviors and root causes, try, as an HR person or a manager, to not drift away; nurture the relationship with any employees dealing with such difficulties.
2. Follow a 360° approach to reverse poor work performance in your team
To address poor work performance efficiently and make sure such issues will be manageable in the future, you may follow a more diverse or holistic approach:
1. Hire right
First of all, make sure you hire the right people for the right job, from the beginning. In some cases, poor work performance is the result of wrong hiring decisions. You may increase the odds of hiring the right people, by using the right tools.
2. Promote or relocate wisely
In a similar fashion, try to promote — or sponsor — people. Also, in case you decide to place employees at a different position, in order to fill an existing role or a role need that recently emerged, make sure you follow the appropriate re-skilling strategy.
3. Provide more training opportunities
Emphasizing on training is of paramount importance, for all of your employees. You must offer your employees new learning and development opportunities, in order to keep them engaged and productive. And, training may take the form of courses, workshops, access to special advisors or any other educational resource needed.
4. Offer personalized support, if needed
Apart from training, it may be helpful, in some cases, to assign a colleague buddy as an extra support measure, to help an underperforming employee. Especially if they recently took on a new role.
5. Resolve any practical issues that may get in the way
Make planning your priority and set clear performance expectations.
6. Improve management
Re-assess and reshape the management style you’re applying; and, also, revisit pertinent processes that affect your collaboration with your subordinates.
7. Re-evaluate your values and nurture your company culture
Jointly, with your team, agree on your values, so that you’ll aptly start shaping the company’s identity. Develop a culture of recognition and appreciation and help your team become stronger.
8. “Recycle” employees and offer alternative opportunities
An underperforming employee may be more productive and efficient in a new role. Evaluate their skills and their potential properly; and, then, assign them to a different role or relocate them to a different team.
Summing it up
Plenty of reasons may lead an employee — or a whole — team into performing below standards. Recognizing poor work performance early on, is of paramount importance for HR people and managers, in the respective roles. In a similar fashion, identifying the root causes of poor work performance usually leads to adopting effective solutions and strategies; the kind of strategies that are highly likely to help reverse and prevent such phenomena in the future.
Among other things, managers may need to evaluate the assigned roles, training and support offered and also set clear performance expectations. Hiring and promoting employees based on their skills are equally critical when it comes to performance. However, the good news is that there are plenty of tools that help in making more well-informed decisions.