In Communication, Employment

Practical tips on how to manage performance issues

A common issue that I advise small charities on is disappointing performance of an employee during probation.

The manager’s reaction to this is varied.  A common approach is to hope that things will get better and hold out for an improvement with little intervention from the line manager.

Sadly, this approach is rarely successful.  The employee may have no idea of the concerns about their performance or may be struggling with:

  • insufficient training or support
  • too much support/direction affecting their confidence and ability to do the job
  • health or personal issues affecting their ability to deliver in their role

Often the employee may not disclose these issues to their employer and struggle on.

Here are some of my practical tips for managing a performance issue more effectively during the probation period:

  • Carry out an induction process with the employee when they join your charity so that the employee understands their role, your expectations, and how the role fits in with others
  • Agree some SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timed) objectives that you want the employee to achieve in their probationary period – maybe short, medium and long terms goals
  • Monitor the employee’s progress and achievement of these goals and set regular review meetings to discuss how everything is going so that any issues are addressed as soon as possible
  • An important point – act as soon as you observe an issue around the employee’s performance or behaviour
  • When discussing performance or behaviour issues with an employee, a good approach is to start the conversation by asking the employee an open question like “how are you finding the role?” or “What challenges are you having in the role?” This gives you an opportunity to listen to the employee and may give you useful lead-ins to discuss some of the concerns that you have.
  • When discussing your concerns focus on the evidence that you have – use specific examples rather than generalised statements about the employee’s performance or behaviour.
  • You will need to consider options to help the employee to improve. For example,  offer further support, direction and training, set more specific SMART objectives, listen to the employee’s suggestions which will help them achieve the performance you want, extend the probation period to give the employee more opportunity to show that they can meet the requirements of the role.
  • Keep file notes of all conversations about performance. This will provide useful information and evidence if you need to escalate the issue or consider possible termination of employment as a result of poor performance.

Case study example:

A small charity CEO had performance issues with a new employee in probation.  The employee was committed to the charity and its mission and undertaking aspects of the role very well.  However a key part of the role was not being achieved by the employee.  The CEO came to me for advice.

We discussed the advantages of extending the probationary period for a further defined time to give the employee the support and the opportunity to achieve progress in the areas where they had not made any progress to date.

The CEO approached me near the end of the extended probation period with continued concerns that the employee had not made any progress on the objectives set.  The CEO had a dilemma as the employee was performing really well in some areas, but not in key areas of the role.  As a result, the CEO could not justify the employee being confirmed in the role.

We discussed the approach to take in a 1:1 meeting with the employee.  Key points were:

  • to have notes of what the CEO wanted to discuss and examples of concerns in performance and how they linked back to the requirements of the role
  • to start the meeting asking the employee how they believe they were doing in the role

What happened next? 

The employee when asked how everything was going admitted that they had not made progress in the key areas and it was because they did not feel comfortable tackling those aspects of the role.  However the employee indicated they enjoyed other aspects of the role which the CEO acknowledged they excelled at.  The employee then went on unprompted to give a number of options for the CEO to consider:

  1. The employee would resign immediately
  2. The employee would work until the end of the probation period and then leave
  3. The appointment end immediately and a new part-time role (fixed term contract) be set up focused on the employee’s strengths

This was an unexpected turn of events which led the CEO to consider all options with the employee.


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