Managing Under-Performance

Reviewing the situation

When it becomes apparent that the objectives set are not being met or you are concerned about an individual’s attitude or behaviour you should pick this up with them straight away.

However, before you do this it is important to think about what might be causing the problem. In doing this you should consider a number of things:

In order to be able to deliver against expectations it is critical that an individual clearly understands what these expectations are. These should have been discussed and recorded, for example as part of a job description, agreed objectives, or as part of an induction programme. These can include expectations about attitude and approach as well as outputs and outcomes. If there is any doubt whether expectations have been made clear this should be addressed first.

In order to help an individual to improve their performance they need to understand the gap between expected performance and their actual performance and where they are falling short of expectations.

Consider whether the individual needs any additional training or guidance, whether they have the resources, including the information, equipment, access to key parties, that they need to achieve their objectives.

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Raising the issues

If, following this, you still believe that there may be an issue with performance you can then use your ongoing one to ones to explore any emerging issues. As part of this meeting you can provide feedback on the issues as you see them, listen to the individuals view and discuss with them the actual reasons for the gap you have identified. You can also agree what, if anything needs to be put in place to close the gap, and when and how you will review this.

It is important that although you have prepared by considering possible reasons that you do not pre-empt any discussion. Sometimes the gap may turn out to be a result of something out of the individual’s control such as a lack of access to key information or even a health issue. In these cases you can still agree any help or guidance that can be provided and, if appropriate, when this should be reviewed to ensure it has effectively addressed the issue.

Whatever the reason for under performance, in many cases a relatively informal discussion, describing the gap, agreeing any support required, and putting in place a review will be enough to ensure the issue is effectively addressed at this early stage.

It is important for both parties that any agreed changes and actions to support this are recorded as this will help to ensure that actions are implemented and will also provide a basis for review.

Where the issues are more entrenched

There may be cases where it is not possible to resolve issues as they emerge. You may also take a judgement that your concerns about an individual's under performance will require a more focused approach from the outset. In such cases, a meeting should be arranged as soon as possible specifically to discuss these issues. You should not wait until the next SR&D meeting. The SR&D process can include discussions regarding under performance as the review process is an opportunity to look back and summarise what has happened over the past year as well as to plan for the future. However, it should not be the first time an individual is made aware of concerns regarding their performance.

At this performance meeting you should ask the individual for their assessment of the situation, but you should also describe the gap between actual and desired performance from your perspective. This can focus on outputs, outcomes and/or the individuals attitude or behaviour. In most cases, particularly where there maybe an issue with their approach, it is also helpful to describe the impact this has, for example on others in the team, or on the delivery of aims and objectives.

It is important that this is a two way discussion, fully exploring the individuals view and any possible reasons for the shortfall in performance.

From this discussion an agreed plan can be put in place including any actions to support the individual in making improvements. It can also be agreed how and when the issues will be reviewed. After the meeting the issues discussed and the agreed plan should be confirmed in writing and used as a basis for ongoing reviews.

Guidance on how to prepare for the discussion meeting can be found below.

It is important to note that this is still part of the informal approach to addressing performance issues.

For staff within the Initial Service Review period the principles of managing poor performance remain the same but the procedures and timescales are more formally prescribed.

Your Faculty/Divisional HR Manager or Officer is available to provide further support and guidance.

If all else fails

The aim of managing under performance is to help the individual to improve and to meet the agreed standards. In doing this you will have ensured that:

If this is in place and there is still insufficient improvement you should arrange to discuss the case with your Faculty/Divisional HR Manager or Officer.  They may advise that you need to consider implementing formal procedures. It is not possible to give an exact time scale of when this should be as each case is individual and is dependent on the facts and circumstances of that case.

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Guidance on how to prepare for a discussion meeting with an individual

Preparing for the discussion meeting

Before you have a discussion with the individual think carefully about how you are going to approach the discussion. Your approach may vary depending on the individual you are dealing with.

Firstly, you should be clear that you have set the right objectives and expectations and that a common understanding of these exists.

Once you are sure the agreed objectives are the right ones, ensure that you are clear where you believe the shortfall to be but, also be prepared to listen.

Consider possible reasons for the shortfall in performance but don’t prejudge.

Consider all of the following before the meeting:

Be prepared (as much as is possible) for the individual’s reaction.

Prior to the meeting inform the individual that you would like to have a discussion with them regarding their performance – this will give them time to prepare. You may choose to raise it initially in a normal ongoing discussion and then, if needs be, reconvene to discuss more fully at a mutually agreed date. Confirm in writing, but there is no need to be too formal at this stage.

In the meeting

Try to have an open and honest discussion

It is essential in the meeting to try to establish the reason/s for under performance and whether it is down to capability i.e. that they ‘can’t do it’, for instance due to a lack of skills or knowledge or whether it is that they ‘won’t do it’, for instance due to poor conduct, attitude, motivation etc.

Make sure you listen to what you are being told – it may be appropriate to reconsider your planned approach in light of new information. You can always adjourn and reconvene if you need further advice and/or support.

Be clear with the individual where you feel the shortfall is and what good would look like.

Give examples based on fact and not hearsay and fiction.

Do not be confrontational or get angry.

Put a plan in place to improve performance. This should include:

Where appropriate offer guidance and coaching.

Decide on a review period. The length of this review period will be determined by a number of factors including:

You should also plan in regular update meetings to review progress towards the overall goal and to discuss how things are going.

After the meeting

Put the outcome of the meeting in writing. This can be either in the form of an email or a letter and should include all that has been discussed in the meeting including:

Ensure you ask the individual for confirmation that they have received the letter/e-mail.

It is very important to keep an audit trail as this will provide the basis for subsequent reviews. It will also provide a record of support given should the issue need to be progressed.

Plan in and stick to regular update meetings with your member of staff to see how they are doing in between the more formal review meetings.

You may need to have a number of meetings and to review objectives a number of times before you see a satisfactory improvement in performance. In the meantime ensure that any progress is recognised whilst still focusing on remaining issues. Always make a note of these meetings and confirm the outcome in writing to the individual.

Your Faculty/Divisional HR Manager or Officer is available to support you at all stages of this process.

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How are you?

Gives you a chance to listen and hear how things are for the other person.  It may allow them to raise difficulties they are having of their own accord, without you having to mention them

Progress on operational work or projects

A chance to ask how work is going and check that things are going to plan.  This is also a good time to give feedback on their work and activity related to any development needs (or Personal Development Plan, PDP, where used).  Start by asking how things have gone, so that you can celebrate success and specify areas for improvement.  Again their own assessment may lead them to raise difficulties or issues without you having to.

Progress on specific agreed targets or milestones

A good opportunity to check whether deadlines are likely to be met.   Also an opportunity to set new milestones and targets.  May be helpful to cross-reference to particular development objectives or aspects of their PDP, where relevant

Learning and development

Have any particular new learning and/or development needs arisen and/or how have previously agreed development needs been met (if not already discussed above).  Where a PDP has been drawn up, you may want to review this pecifically at regular intervals within the one to one?

 Housekeeping – annual leave and TOIL requests/updates; upcoming dates and events etc.

Scheduling this as part of a regular one to one makes it much easier to keep track of things like annual leave.  It is generally welcomed by the person who has a regular opportunity to discuss these things with your full attention

Date of next meeting


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Giving Effective Feedback

Effective feedback is a pre-requisite to effective performance enhancement, and therefore this is a crucial tool for all leaders and managers across the organisation.   


Why are you giving this feedback?

Improve or praise?


What was the action or behaviour?

Ensure you are specific, objective, factual


What was the impact it had?

Ensure you are specific, objective, factual


What positives can you offer?

If you need to balance information about something that did not go well


How will you introduce the feedback?

Prepare the individual by asking whether you may give the feedback. This allows people to adjust their mindset to ‘receiving feedback’ rather than suddenly hearing it, when it will feel more like an attack

How will you conclude the feedback?

Requests?  Thanks?  Meet again?

May be useful in conjunction with:

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