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How To Communicate With Non-performers

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How To Communicate With Non-performers

“Manage Conflict or It Will Manage You” is a reality in the dynamic business environment today. While there are multiple pitfalls of un-resolved conflict issues, the performance gap is one of the primary and almost a predictable one.

Day-to-day issues related to task, process and roles, when not addressed, can lead to non-performance – the one thing that no manager and organisation want as a legacy.

Imagine a traffic signal. No matter how hurried you are, if you do not slow down when it turns amber, it will soon turn red and if you haven’t pushed the brakes, it might just be a bit too late. As extreme as it may sound, this applies in the organisation context too.

Despite knowing this, many people managers and leaders avoid confrontation, conversations and action at the right time – thus creating non-performance as an outcome.

Non-performance has multiple triggers

The most critical ones’ rest in the hiring process – Employees hired because they have the requisite skills for the organisation but may not have the attitude, spirit and result orientation. Such employees, if not managed at the right time, usually result in underperformance or stagnation.

Even if employees are hired with the right skills and the much-needed attitude to do what it takes, their performance may get affected over a period of time. Their managers need to pay attention to motivators, the environment they operate in and have regular conversations to avoid gaps in performance.

And then there is our perception of managing poor performance/ non-performance, which is clouded by thoughts of uncomfortable situations that may result in denial, anger and distance in the relationship.

As a people manager, you are accountable for the achievement of certain goals; if you do not keep a watch, identify and take concrete steps when necessary, do you think you will achieve your goals? To avoid performance mishaps, it is critical to deal with performance issues, whether you feel comfortable or not.

How to deal with non-performance?

The best way to deal with non-performance is to deal with it immediately.

Ignoring it or avoiding the conversation can create more challenges for you.

Another important step is to have a chat face-to-face with a focus on the task or issue. When you meet, identify the non-performance issue and avoid any generic references. For example instead of “You have always missed targets”, be specific “In the last 6 months, you have missed the target”. This also helps the team member feel that the good work is not washed away and only the task where expectations are not met is discussed.

Once you have established the issue, build buy-in from the team member. It is necessary that he/she understands the reason and also connect to overall company goals. If they don’t agree, explain expectations again and revisit performance goals if needed. An agreement on the fact that the team member has not met expectations is crucial, else you won’t see any real improvement.

Once you have buy-in, instead of giving a ready solution, ask the team member for possible alternatives and ways to address the issue. This is also a key in building agreement for further progress. If you are dealing with consistent non-performance and are fully aware that this might lead to a decision that impacts employment, make sure you communicate it well. Avoiding this is another blunder often made because it is uncomfortable. No doubt, it is not easy to ask someone to leave, so explain to the team member along with reasons.

Ensure the performance issue and the solution is agreed upon, if need be, document it. Most importantly, agree on a review timeline and ensure the commitment is kept from both ends.

So is there something you can do to enable performance? Yes!

Knowing the following factors can help you:

1.   It is a Process

Performance is a process. You are never actually hit by non-performance all of a sudden; there are always indicators, albeit subtle. These indicators need to be identified carefully.

There is a big difference between a team member who consistently does not meet performance standards and a good employee who has hit a slump. If a team member is engaged in his/her role, the chances of a weak performance are low. If you see performance measures slipping away more than once, it helps you to find out what could be the reason.

As a process change has a ripple effect on the entire workflow, one weak performance, especially unaddressed, can have a negative impact on the other team members. If it is an unusual drop in achievement, do address it with a chat to understand what caused it. This can help the team member understand the impact on the team and improve.

2.  Regular Feedback is crucial

If feedback is given only once in a year, your team may actually perceive it as unfair if you name lack of achievement as non-performance. Regular feedback ensures adequate support, as well as a good opportunity to perform, is given. It also helps in avoiding surprises for the person concerned. Rather than letting it reach a point of mishandling, a timely performance conversation is a much better approach.

Feedback also needs to be actionable – broad feedback may not be understood by all. You surely want the team member to know what is expected at the end of the discussion.

While it may not be easy, periodic and consistent dialogue will help you get better outcomes. Dialogue also provides a chance for the team member to voice his/her concerns. It serves as an open communication channel between you and the team.

3.  Recognition is key

Performance gets impacted if it goes unrecognized for long. People expect their achievement to be appreciated; motivating all team members is important. While it is not always necessary to attach a monetary benefit, research shows that a simple “Great job done” goes a long way in employee engagement.

4.  Development needs attention

As a manager, you need to ensure your team is functionally skilled and equipped to perform efficiently and effectively. If you cater to their needs as well as give them enough development support, they will do their best.

So, when you need to address non-performance, it helps you to ensure if all enabling factors mentioned above are present.

While the hiring process should be strong enough, people managers need to be able to identify enablers and disablers of performance proactively. Let us not forget that individual performance is the path that leads to the achievement of organisational goals.


Do you wish to have a streamlined process in place that comprises essential elements of setting performance expectations, periodic dialogue and giving constructive feedback? Then write to us at contact@yellowspark.in

Author Profile: Deepam Yogi is an adventurer at heart, socially conscious in her gut and professionally a strategic consultant. She co-founded Yellow Spark to support organisations to build workplaces that people love being a part of. Deepam describes herself as a shy yet opinionated writer and firmly believes that most answers to complex issues lie in simple communication.