Tracy Madgwick

Feb 14, 2019, 8:00 AM

Managing Underperformance

Does your charity manage underperformance effectively?

Managing people’s performance is one of the key issues facing any charity. After all, in most cases the people are the charity.  It’s great when an organisation has a team of high achievers who regularly meet all their objectives and then some… Indeed, the challenge here is making sure those people stay with your charity, but that’s a subject for another day!

However, if you are faced with underperformance issues, here are some things to consider:

1.    Ensure your job descriptions (JDs) are up-to-date and accurate – blindingly obvious you might think, but it’s surprising how many organisations (and this in not just in the charity sector) don’t do this. Ideally JDs are reviewed once a year, so consider making this part of the appraisal process. 

Why do JDs matter? Well, the JD is your reference point for comparing your employee’s performance to what they have been asked to do by your organisation. It enables you to identify which parts of the role are not being performed to a satisfactory standard.

2.    Make sure line managers articulate performance standards. So many managers communicate performance standards by telepathy and then wonder why there is a problem!  A good example is answering the phone. The job description may say something like “Receive incoming calls and direct the customers to the appropriate department.” However, it is unlikely to go into detail about how many times the phone should ring before it’s answered, what an employee should say when they pick up the call, and so on.

Your employee therefore needs to be told what your charity’s standard is when they answer the phone: that they must answer within so many rings, and must say certain phrases when starting the conversation, etc. If they are not told, don’t be surprised when they don’t do it! 

3.    Raise concerns about underperformance as soon as they happen, not weeks later. It’s no good complaining about an underperformance issue to someone else, if the line manager hasn’t spoken to the person concerned. Admittedly many managers do find giving negative feedback difficult, but put yourself in your employee’s shoes. If you were doing something wrong, wouldn’t you like to know about it so you can do something about it and put it right?

4.    Make notes – memories are notoriously fallible!  When you talk to your employee about concerns, make a note to yourself and do this every time you have a conversation about underperformance. That way, you can demonstrate that you have managed the issue and that the employee has been spoken to several times.

5.    Recognise that informal feedback will only get you so far. In most cases, giving feedback to an underperforming employee will normally deal with the issue at hand, and it’s great when that is the case. But occasionally there will be situations where line managers have given feedback on several occasions and tried to support the employee, but the underperformance is still happening. When this is the situation, you have to be brave and recognise that starting a formal capability process may be the only option. 

This is the time to seek expert HR advice to make sure that you manage the process effectively and fairly. And remember, the purpose of a capability process is to support the employee to meet the performance standards - it is not intended as a punishment!

If your organisation has an underperformance issue you would like support with, please do get in touch with Tracy Madgwick at office@actionplanning.co.uk

Tracy Madgwick is an Action Planning Consultant and seasoned HR professional who has held a number of senior HR roles in well-known charities. She currently provides HR support to smaller charities who have no in-house support, as well as provides additional capacity for existing HR teams in larger organisations. Tracy’s areas of experience are: change management; restructures; redundancy consultations; support with disciplinary, grievance and capability matters; TUPE transfers; team building using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator; recruitment; and assertiveness training.

Karen Morton

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