Managing under-performance

An opportunity for improvement

Managing conflict and under-performance can be regarded positively as in many situations they provide an opportunity for improving the business processes.

If an employee’s work is proving unsatisfactory, it is crucial to act promptly and actively deal with the situation.

Be proactive

Some issues need immediate attention; others can wait for a more appropriate time.

It is helpful to use a counselling approach to bring an issue into the open, understand what is happening and why, and establish commitment to a resolution.

Unless the issue is urgent and can’t wait,  it is important that the discussion takes place in private, in an environment that is comfortable and non-threatening, at a time when there will be no distractions.

It should be an open discussion, where both parties have equal opportunity to give their point of view.

Timing can make or break the relationship

There can be real advantages in accumulating issues rather than raising negatives in the heat of the moment. Evaluate which is the best forum to address underperformance.

Key points when holding the discussion are to:

  • Talk about the issue, not the person
    • explain what the issue is – be very specific and give examples where relevant;
    • explain why it is a problem for the business.
  • When having this type of discussion, it can be helpful to refer to recent, positive things the person has done to show them you recognise and appreciate their strengths.
  • Explore the reasons why there is an issue:
    • let the person discuss the issue from their point of view;
    • listen actively – seek more detail by accurately paraphrasing a point, don’t pre-judge, interrupt or use blaming language;
    • if discussing shortfalls in performance, make sure the person is aware of the task that has been required of them, was fully equipped to do it (with the appropriate documentation, training and support) and that they understand the gap between what is happening and what is required;
    • stay relaxed and be encouraging;
    • summarise to check your understanding.
  • Jointly commit to a path forward:
    • work toward an outcome you both think is positive – even if it is not the one you originally anticipated – and explore ideas by asking open questions (how, why, in what way, what do you think about, tell me about…);
    • emphasise common ground;
    • keep the discussion on track (stay ‘hard’ on the issue);
    • focus on positive possibilities (see examples in the table);
    • offer assistance, such as additional resources – if appropriate, a good starting point is to ensure the operating procedures for the farm covers the issue and provides good guidance (if they aren’t available this is an opportunity to develop them, see Farm policies and systems for more information on how to do this), further training may also be desirable (see Skills development).
  • Ensure effective follow-up – set a date for the next meeting to discuss progress, and determine whether the planned approach needs to be revised in any way.

Ways of redirecting a discussion to focus on positive possibilities

Mechanism What you hear What you might say
Move to the positive It will never work. What would it take to make it work?
He’s useless. You can’t see a way to do it at the moment?
I can’t. You can’t see a way to do it at the moment?
I don’t want to. What would you like?
Explore the fundamental issue She doesn’t do her fair share. Where do you think her priorities lie?
It should be done my way. What makes that seem the best option?
How dare they do such a thing. What do you dislike about it?
Clarify details It’s too much/too little/too expensive Compared to what?
Find options You can’t do that around here What would happen if we did?
This is the only way to do it. Yes, that’s an option, What else could we consider.
We’ve tried that already. What was the outcome?

If the issue continues you may need to follow the process several times. If performance remains unsatisfactory you will need to consider what action to take. Options may include more training, demotion or dismissal.

If you choose to dismiss the employee it is important to manage this carefully – refer to Termination for more information on the legal requirements and implications of termination of employment.

If the employee to be dismissed is still on probation, go to Recruitment for information on the relevant legislation and employer responsibilities.

Seek legal advice

Termination of employment can lead to court action. Employers who are considering dismissing an employee should obtain legal advice before doing so