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The Value of Taking Early Action for Declining Performance

The Value of Taking Early Action for Declining Performance

One of the challenging parts of being a manager is dealing with poor performance. If you are a manager long enough, you will encounter a decline in performance from one of your direct reports. How you deal with that decline will determine the outcome. Usually declining performance does not get better, so when you uncover it, take immediate corrective action!

The following are six keys to effectively dealing with declining performance:

  1. Address it early – The sooner you identify and deal with a poor performer’s declining performance, the easier it is to correct. The goal should always be to get the direct report’s performance back to a meets expectation level; doing this when the decline is minor is easier than after it becomes a serious issue.
  2. Refocus on expectations – The foundation of good management is clear alignment between you and your direct report about what good looks and sounds like for his or her job. This is called alignment on expectations. As soon as you see an indication that performance is declining, start the turnaround process by revisiting the job expectations.
  3. Provide clear and candid behavior-based feedback – Always provide clear, candid behavior-based feedback, especially when performance is declining. Behavior-based feedback focuses on observed behaviors you have seen the direct report demonstrate and then informs him or her of the negative or poor impact of those behaviors. Honesty is a critical part of this step. Couching your feedback because you don’t want to hurt the direct report’s feelings does not improve the situation.
  4. Establish a SMART action plan – After you have communicated the feedback regarding why the direct report’s performance is declining, it’s time to jointly act. Creating an action plan that follows SMART—specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time bound—will increase the chances that the direct report will respond.
  5. Routinely assess progress – Routinely providing direct reports with assessments of their progress or lack thereof ensures that they focus on improvement. It’s easy to forget to provide this assessment, but it’s critical to outcomes.
  6. Document conversations – Documenting performance conversations, coaching sessions, and any metrics for all your direct reports should be a routine part of your performance management process. This becomes especially important when a direct report’s performance begins to decline. Documentation helps you effectively guide the direct report’s turnaround plan and, if he or she doesn’t respond and you need to move to probation or worse, you have a record of actions (document of record) taken for your senior management, HR, and legal group to review.

Unfortunately, a good action plan to improve performance doesn’t always work. Sometimes, regardless of your efforts, the direct report’s performance continues to decline. Involve your HR business partner and senior management in the process early and ensure you are following company policy.

Addressing declining performance is never fun. However, if you approach it with the attitude that you sincerely want direct reports to improve and you implement a plan for them to do so, you likely will succeed. However, don’t hesitate to act if they do not respond. Your performance depends on their performance, and others on your team are watching your actions.

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