Focusing on under performance

If a member of your team is under performing it is an important part of your role to manage this.

The aim of managing performance is to ensure that people can achieve their best and play their part in meeting the goals and objectives of the team in a way that is consistent with our values and culture. So managing under performance is about you as a line manager proactively addressing any instances where this is not happening.

Managing under performance is not always easy. However, the effects of not dealing with it can include demotivation of other staff, not achieving your team or Faculty/School/Service objectives or damage to the reputation of your area or the University with key stakeholders such as students, research funding bodies etc. In most cases if under performance is not addressed it becomes more difficult to manage. It is therefore important to deal effectively with any issues as soon as possible.

Under performance can usually be attributed to one of the following:

  • Capability - this is generally when a member of staff can't meet the requirements of a role. Perhaps they don't understand what is expected, or they have not got the skills required. They might also be incapable of fulfilling a role due to ill health.
  • Conduct - this is generally when someone won't do something, for example because they cannot be bothered or don't want to.

It is sometimes hard to determine whether the issue is conduct or capability (and sometimes it can be both) but if you are unsure and want to discuss specific cases in more detail, you can always seek advice from your local HR Manager/Officer.

How to manage under performance?

When you first notice that there may be a performance issue, there are steps you should take.

  • Think about the possible causes of the under performance and particularly anything you have direct control over i.e. have you provided enough training, have you made your expectations clear, is their workload too high etc?
  • Make sure you talk with your member of staff as soon as possible to explain your concerns and explore their view. Although it is important to prepare by thinking through possibilities and solutions, you need to avoid making assumptions or leading the discussion in a particular way. You may realise through discussion that there are things you have over looked or not considered, for example, many performance issues stem from health/personal problems that you may not be aware of.
  • Agree what the issues are and what needs to change, what needs to be put in place to help them do this and what action each of you will take.
  • Agree regular meetings to discuss and review the issues if you do not already have these in place. In the first instance, regular catch up meetings are the best place to discuss performance issues.
  • Confirm your agreed way forward in writing to them (probably email at this stage) and monitor progress. Timescales for reviewing progress will differ depending on the role and grade of the member of staff, the specific issues and the interventions required.

NB: ‘In writing’ means that you should confirm what was discussed and what was agreed, detailing expectations, timescales, support required etc. The purpose of this is so both parties have a common understanding of what the issues are and what needs to change, are clear on the next steps and there is a record to measure progress against.

What if there is no improvement?

There will be occasions where the interventions above will not have the desired effect. If this happens, you should:

  • tell the member of staff as soon as you are clear that the improvement plans have not worked, being specific about any short falls;
  • make sure they understand the seriousness and what might happen if their performance does not improve for example, progression into formal procedures;
  • arrange meetings to continue to monitor performance. If you have discussed performance as part of more general meetings up to this point it is probably better now to set specific time aside to discuss the performance issues;
  • continue to confirm these discussions in writing. You may choose to use letters instead of email if you feel you need to reinforce the escalation of the situation.

Common questions about meeting with staff

You may have a number of questions about meeting with a member of staff to discuss performance issues. Here are the answers to some common questions.

How do I approach a meeting about under performance?

When you meet with a member of staff to discuss under performance you need to agree what the issues are and what needs to change, what needs to be put in place to help them do this and what action each of you will take. You should agree further meetings to review progress and confirm the discussion and actions in writing.

More information on preparing for these meetings and what to do if there is no improvement can be found on the previous page.

Who should attend meetings about under performance?

As far as possible, these meetings should be between you and your member of staff, particularly as most performance issues will be raised initially in your regular meetings.

However, your member of staff may ask if they can bring along their trade union representative or a work place colleague. This is absolutely fine and in many cases very helpful, and you may then prefer to also invite your local HR Manager/Officer for support.

This also works the other way in that, if you wish to invite your local HR Manager/Officer, you should allow the member of staff to bring someone with them.

It is worth considering that when you have 'external' parties at these meetings they can make the whole process feel more formal than it actually is and this may affect the outcome. It should always be made very clear to the individual regardless of who attends that the meeting is still informal.

If you need any help or support in how to deal with these types of meeting, your local HR Manager/Officer will be more than happy to help.

What might happen as a result of these meetings?

Raising performance issues with a member of staff can be a very difficult thing to do and people will react in quite different ways to being told their performance is not at the required level.

Many will immediately take on board the feedback you give them and you will very quickly see the necessary improvement.

A minority will not and may get emotional, shout, cry or become aggressive. They may even leave the meeting. It is possible they may accuse you of bullying and in some extreme cases may raise a grievance against you. Another possibility is that they go off sick citing workplace stress.

The key thing to remember is that regardless of the reaction it should not stop you dealing with the issues. It may be that you adjourn and reorganise a meeting or that you have to deal with a grievance or sickness case before being able to progress. It is important to remember that managing performance effectively is not bullying.

Although continuing to manage the under performance may be difficult the worst thing you can do is use these as a reason for not pursuing the performance issue. It is likely it will just become more difficult. Your local HR Manager/Officer will always be available to help and support you as much as they can.

Formal procedures

The aim of managing under performance is to help your member of staff improve and meet the agreed standards that are expected of them. Before considering any formal action you should make sure that you have used informal means to do this, in particular that:

  • they are clear what is expected of them;
  • you have provided feedback on their performance;
  • they are clear about the gap between their performance and the required performance;
  • you have an agreed plan outlining what improvement you expect of them and by when, and the support you have provided to help them improve;
  • the agreed action plan has been in place for long enough for them to demonstrate some improvement;
  • you have been clear about what will happen if their performance doesn’t improve;
  • you have a clear audit trail of all of the above.

If you have done this and you still haven't seen the required improvement you should discuss the case with your local HR Manager/Officer as soon as possible. They will be able to give you advice on how to take the case forward and advise if formal action is appropriate or not.

In some cases your local HR Manager/Officer might also recommend a case conference involving you, them, the Faculty Dean or Head of Service and the Acting Director of Human Resources. This conference would be used to review the case, including everything that has happened to date and the records of this, in order to agree the best way forward.

Moving to formal procedures

If it is clear that you have taken appropriate steps to help your member of staff to improve their performance, that there has not been the improvement needed and that you have documented this appropriately, a move to the formal procedures will usually be supported.

At this point it is likely that a decision will be made to no longer hold SRDS meetings with your member of staff, as issues are being dealt with outside this process.

Which procedures?

The procedure you need to follow will depend on what category your member of staff is and whether they are still on probation.

  • The probation procedure should be used for all staff who are on probation.
  • The formal procedure to be used for support staff with capability issues is the Support Staff Procedure Agreement – Section E. For disciplinary (including conduct issues) Section G applies.
  • The procedure for Academic and Academic Related (Professional and Managerial) staff is outlined within the Statutes - Statute VII Part III. The Statute does not have a separate capability section so the correct procedures to use for all performance issues are the disciplinary procedures.

Your local HR Manager/Officer will advise you of the appropriate procedure to follow and will support you at every stage of the formal procedures - and before if required. This support will include advice on writing letters, putting together management cases and interpreting the procedures as well as providing personal support to you.

Under performance case studies

The following case studies are designed to help you better understand managing under performance. Each case study is broken down into stages and will provide you with a possible approach at each stage, although you'll probably get most from the case studies if you start by thinking through what you would do before checking the approach provided

Case Study 1 - an inability to meet deadlines and inaccuracy of work

Case study 2 - poor student feedback, non-attendance at lectures and failure to mark course work in a timely manner

Case study 3 - rude and aggressive behaviour

Case study 4 - a sudden drop in the standard of performance