Informal ways to manage a performance issue

Learn about how to manage a performance issue informally. Informal measures include things like extra training, mentoring or more regular conversations with managers.

Check the and workplace policies before doing anything. Many employment agreements or workplace policies have a set process to follow when a performance issue is identified which you will need to follow. 

Improving Performance

Early intervention is key to resolving performance issues and can be started by the employee or manager.

If issues are not addressed, then the level of performance can become ‘normal’ which can be hard to change. It can also mean that high-performing employees reduce their outputs or leave. They feel they’re doing extra work to keep things going, or that it’s acceptable to perform at a lower level.

Tips for employees

  • If you have a problem doing your job, then let your manager know as soon as possible.
  • Work with your manager to find solutions to fix the issue.
  • Use the help and advice offered, work positively with your manager, and fully engage with the performance improvement process.
  • Make notes of meetings, of issues as you go, and of any help that you need.
  • Talk to your union representative or HR team if you need help or advice. 

Tips for managers

  • If you work to correct a performance issue early, then it can often be done informally.
  • Don’t draw attention to the situation in front of others, but don’t be shy about managing performance issues. Remember that negative feedback should be given privately.
  • Remember that an employee’s performance can be affected by underlying factors like personal problems (for example, health and family) or problems in the workplace (for example, difficult relationships or conflict with co-workers). Consider these factors and how they can be addressed, for example, by offering flexible work arrangements and Employee Assistance Programme.
  • Work positively with your employee to improve their performance. Make sure they get all required training and support, including on-the-job support and the right tools and development.
  • Keep a written record of your discussions with the employee, the actions taken and what you’ve agreed.

Step-by-step guide for informal management

Here’s an easy-to-follow step-by-step guide to managing a performance issue informally.

Step 1: Identify the problem

It’s important to understand the key drivers of performance or performance issues within your work area. It’s also important to identify exactly what the problem is and what’s causing it.

Step 2: Assess and analyse the problem

The manager should determine:

  • how serious the problem is
  • how long the problem has existed, and
  • how wide the gap is between what is expected and what is being delivered.

Once the problem has been identified and assessed, the manager should organise a meeting with the employee to discuss the issue that they have identified. This can be informal and part of a regular catch-up or feedback conversation. It is not a disciplinary meeting.

Step 3: Meet with the employee informally to discuss the issue

It is important that the meeting takes place in private and in an environment that is comfortable and non-threatening, away from distractions and interruptions.

The manager should begin by having a discussion with the employee to explain the problem in specific terms. From this conversation the employee should be able to clearly understand:

  • what the issue is
  • why it is an issue
  • how it impacts on the workplace
  • why there is a concern.

The manager should discuss what they wish to achieve from the meeting. The meeting should be an open discussion in which both parties discuss the issue with open minds.

The manager should listen carefully to any explanation about why the issue has come about and to any other comments the employee makes.

When having this type of meeting, it’s useful to also refer to any recent positive things that the employee has done to show them that you also recognise and appreciate their strengths.

Key points for managers to remember when holding the meeting are to:

  • talk about the issue and not the person
  • explore the reasons why there is an issue
  • clarify details
  • stay relaxed and encouraging
  • summarise to check your understanding of the situation
  • keep a written record of what was discussed.

And, when discussing shortfalls in any area, it’s important to check that the employee:

  • is aware that it is a task that is required of them
  • has been shown what is required
  • understands the gap between what is happening and what is required.

Step 4: Jointly develop a solution

It’s preferable to form a solution together with the employee. Where an employee has contributed to the solution, they will be more likely to accept and act on it.

When working out a solution, the manager should:

  • explore ideas by asking open questions
  • emphasise common ground
  • keep the discussion on track
  • focus on positive possibilities
  • offer assistance, for example, further training, mentoring, flexible work practices, or redefining roles and expectations.

A clear plan of action can be developed with the employee to implement the solution. This can:

  • reflect an understanding of performance expectations and what needs to be achieved over the specified time period (development milestones)
  • clarify roles and responsibilities of the employee and manager
  • include strategies for training and career development
  • include timeframes for improvement, which might vary depending on the issue and needs of the business — however, it’s important to give an employee adequate time to improve their performance
  • reinforce the value and worth of the role being performed.

It’s important to keep a written record of what you have agreed.

Set a date for another meeting with the employee to review progress and discuss the employee's performance against their expectation review agreement.

Step 5: Stay in touch and monitor performance

The manager should monitor the employee's performance and continue to provide feedback and encouragement.

A quick check-in with the employee to discuss the employee’s performance should happen even if their performance has improved to a satisfactory level. This enables both parties to acknowledge that the issue has been resolved.

The manager should provide ongoing feedback — both positive and negative — to the employee and work with the employee to make sure that performance improvements are kept up.

More formal action may be necessary if the employee’s performance does not improve, including a performance improvement plan, issuing formal warnings and ultimately — if the issue can’t be resolved — termination of employment.

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