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The MHC Blog

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When do you deal with poor performance?

Over my 30+ years of experience within the HR field, I have often been confused by Managers frustrations over their poor performing employees.  In my experience, Managers tend to hold off dealing with poor performance, keeping the issues to themselves in the hope that the employee will miraculously improve saving them the effort to have the tricky conversation to deal with it. 

The first HR tend to hear about a non-performing employee is when their Manager has been pushed to the limited of their patience and wants “them out immediately”, pushing their frustrations onto HR who simply ask about the performance management or disciplinary processes they have followed to help support this request. 

HR don’t tend to write these policies and processes for the good of our health, they are there to help deal with situations like this, protecting the Company from tribunals and the Employee from discrimination.  However, I admit these processes do require some effort from the Manager, I’ll also admit that conversations like these are not easy to have.

Here are 5 ideas on dealing with poor performance as soon as it rears its head:

  1. Say something when it first happens

    Unless everyone involved has discovered the art of sixth sense, the employee will not know what they are doing wrong or the implications and consequences of their error unless you tell them.

    Feedback should be ongoing between an employee and their Line Manager, this way any mistakes can be nipped in the bud as soon as they happen.  By not saying something in the first instance, an employee may assume they have done the right thing and carry on making the mistake repeatedly.  Other employees could observe this error, assume it the right way to do it and copy the mistake.  By speaking up immediately, the correction becomes a training discussion, and can easily be corrected.


  1. Informal action planning

    For ongoing issues of poor performance create an action plan detailing the improvement. This conversation can also fall into the realms of a training discussion, however the action plan evidence is the first step towards formally correcting the issues.  The action plans should be clear, follow the SMART rules and have an agreed review date.  Stick to the date, put it in both your diaries and ensure the meeting is held – if the correction is serious and could end up with your taking disciplinary action, then the date of the meeting takes president over anything else that may creep up in your schedule.


  1. Follow the process you have in place

    If you do not have a performance management or disciplinary policy, then get one. Middle Eastern labour law is a little “vague” on the process you should follow, I therefore highly recommend that you follow the European approach when it comes to performance management and put in place a clear and transparent disciplinary process. 

    If you do have a process, the biggest mistake you can make is not following it.  Passion and frustrations can take over and it’s easy to mistakenly put the process aside in order to deal with the situation in hand.  Take 24 hours, suspend the employee if need be, take out the formal process and follow it.  It will help you remove any heated feelings, make the whole process professional not personal.


  1. A verbal warning should be written

    A common misconception is that a verbal warning is just that, a verbal discussion that is not written in any form.  Often managers will tell me “I have spoken to them about their performance many times, but they still have not made any improvements”, but cannot tell me when they spoke to the employee or what was agreed.  Take the time to make a file note in the employees personnel file, follow up with a letter detailing the expected improvements and make sure it ends with the employee knowing this is a verbal warning.


  1. Confirm in writing to avoid misunderstandings

    At each stage of the disciplinary process, you should follow up the meeting with a letter reminding the employee of the required improvements, the level of warning being issued and the consequences on non-improvement, this last stage can easily be forgotten.

    Even though you explain to an employee at the disciplinary meeting the improvements you need and the consequences of not making them, unless you followup this in writing, it can be forgotten, or the consequences not understood.  It allows the Employee to fully understand the importance of the meeting and what is expected of them. 


Finally, remember that Employees are paid a monthly salary for an expected level of performance against the duties detailed in their job description.  You employed them against these duties, they accepted the role knowing the duties required and so everyone goes into the professional relationship knowing the expectations of each other. 

Should the employee fail to live up to the expectations of the role, following a performance management process will help them either make the right improvements or provide you with a professional and legal process to ask someone to leave your contractual employment. 

If you follow the European disciplinary process (verbal, written warning, final written warning, termination) then the employee will have 3 opportunities to make the required improvements or let you know that they need training to help them achieve them.  Depending on the improvements needed, you can quickly head through these 3 meetings, removing the frustrations you may feel.

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Claire Donnelly

Written by Claire Donnelly

A Business Growth and HR Strategist helping medium size companies to Scale Up using proven systems. Claire is an MCIPD qualified Human Resource professional, with 25+ years’ experience working within various industries and 10 + years’ experience of HR practices throughout the Middle East. As a HR Generalist she has held a number of senior and Board level HR positions. She is experienced in working at both strategic and tactical levels.

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