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7 Top Tips on Turning Low Performers into Your Best People

Do you fancy learning 7 key ways in which you can create a high performance culture, and turn your low performers in to some of your best employees… well in you’re in the right place. Read on…

You’re doing all the right things?

So, you are doing all the “right” things. Team meetings, twice a year appraisals, you have an open door policy, you give clear instructions. Yet, some of your staff are not performing. Maybe they are going off sick, citing stress? Maybe they have even raised a grievance against you. You’ve got policies, procedures and you’ve been following them and nothing’s working?

But the truth is…

You are probably hiding behind the process, which is what is hindering your need and ability to give your staff the best opportunity to succeed. You don’t need all the documentation to hide behind. Yes, in terms of employment law, these things have their place, but there are some crucial things that are often missing, and culturally, these processes and policies often do not create a high performance culture.

Now, before we get started, I realise on the face of it, it may seem some of these tips may not work, and for several reasons. The employee doesn’t give a damn, and isn’t interested in engaging with you, they aren’t actually present in the workplace (stress, sickness), or the culture of your organisation or policy prevent you from doing what I am about to share with you… but you NEED to do all these things outlined to PREVENT it happening again.

I also want to stress that these tips apply across the board, even with your high performing people, so these hints and tips shouldn’t just be limited to the low performing. It’s a formula for success with all staff.

The Top 7 Tips on Turning Around Low Performers:

#1: Give regular meaningful feedback

Your Appraisal Process and 1:1’s if you are doing them is not the be all and end all of feedback. Countless times I have heard managers say “I’ve got his 1:1 or Appraisal in a few weeks, I’ll speak to him about this then”. People need meaningful feedback, and it’s only meaningful when it’s timely and relevant. How many more errors etc. are you going to allow that person to make in the weeks between the incident and the procedural conversation? This isn’t about building up a body of evidence in between now and then, to shoot the person with when they sit down with you. This is about seeing your staff differently. Your job as their manager is to help them be the best they can be, and that is addressing performance at the time when it needs addressing. This brings me nicely on to my next point.

#2: Be curious and coach

Ask questions to explore what was happening, why it happened, what could they do differently, what have they learned, what might be useful for you to know/your team to know in order to increase performance, and any feedback they have for you (yes, tough one, but it could change things A LOT). Coaching the individual into understanding and reflecting on their own performance, means they are more likely to take it on board the outcomes of your discussion.

#3: Play to strengths

It only takes being told 3 times you are no good at something for it to affect your ability and desire to grow and improve. And addressing people’s weaknesses and constantly asking them to improve on them, can decrease performance by 25% [1]. So the secret recipe is to play to strengths instead, which can increase performance by 36%[2]. If someone isn’t good at a certain element of their job, find what they are good at and play to it. You can establish this and the areas they enjoy, which may not even be part of their job, by the coaching and meaningful discussion as above.  We can’t all be good at everything, yet the way we design jobs expects often a real mix of clashing skills and personality types.

Let’s look an example a manager who I worked with many years ago, who was fantastic at accountancy, but was often asked to present at board meetings, and leadership groups with up to 50 people in the audience. He was great at his job, but hated presenting, and he wasn’t very confident at it, so the days before a presentation, he would suffer with worry, stress and sleepless nights. And that clearly reflected in his presentation. This is hardly a recipe for success is it? So think about job design, and where the talent in your team can add their real value. Every team has so much untapped potential, and if you truly knew the picture of the all the strengths in your team, you could do something very powerful, in terms of inputs, outputs and above all morale, motivation and happiness.

#4: Give autonomy

I guess this might seem a little counter productive to some, as usually the more some-one is under performing, the more you pull the reins in, put them on a performance improvement plan, and take away any unessential activity to get them back on track. But how does pulling in the reins really benefit anyone? Could part of the reason they aren’t performing be that your directions are too descriptive, not leaving them any room for creative interpretations or outcomes? And this by return decreases their motivation? How would it feel to set some lose boundaries and let them do the rest. They need to know the goal, the deadline and the resources (i.e. the budget), what happens in between could prove really beneficial to you and them, if you let them just get on with it. Now some people are deadline missers, and part of that may be because they don’t find the work interesting and they procrastinate, pushing it to the back and eventually either not doing it, or doing a crappy last minute job. But if you played to their strengths, then maybe this wouldn’t happen?

#5: Offer meaningful learning

Provide your staff with opportunities to learning that is meaningful. And is not just about training courses or  “we haven’t got enough money in the budget”, “there’s not enough people to man the office while you take a day out”- sound familiar? It has certainly been familiar to me over the past 16 years of working in this industry, and I’m afraid that’s not washing with me.

It’s about opportunities to learn in the way that each individual absorbs learning, Maybe it is through a course, or maybe it’s from a coaching session, finding a mentor, opting to volunteer on project on another team, secondments, watching TED talks, YouTube video’s, e-learning courses (free or paid for), work shadowing, books, magazines, podcasts, audio books, apps. We live in a very knowledge rich world, where everything can be Googled – we have learning freely available at a click of a button, so it’s not really about cost!

And learning, in the right environment, can create confidence, competence, innovation, creativity, connection and motivation – surely that’s worth rearranging work schedules, to allow your staff to experience new knowledge and experiences, yes? Or let your staff member come up with how best their work could be covered while they are away enriching themselves and becoming an even better employee – put them fully in charge for their learning and circumstances.

#6: Seek to understand the whole person

You may have established from the curiosity and coaching discussions, what’s behind their low performance, and perhaps it’s not about work. Perhaps it’s something in their personal lives. And we can not expect people to leave their home lives at reception, and pick them back up on their way out. Now I realise this may play out in many different manifestations, but some-one who has a crisis at home, will not be doing their best for you, and neither should you expect them to – they are only your employee 37 hours of the week, and they have a life outside of your employment relationship. An understanding, empathy and compassion can go along way, and building a trusting relationship is absolutely key. Some companies have the use of Employee Assistance Programmes and helplines, for staff to call and talk about any manner of issues, perhaps you have an occupational health resource you could utilise, or even just offering a coffee and asking them if they are ok, are all steps in the right direction.

#7: Pay attention to measuring values, behaviour and attitude

This comes into play particularly when recruiting. Don’t let the wrong people into your team. You need to know they have the values and behaviours that are aligned to your team and your organisation. Who cares about their degree when their attitude stinks? You need to make sure you concentrate on having as good an indicator as possible on their attitudes and behaviours before you think of anything else. Some-one who isn’t acting in accordance to your values and behaviours, and needs constant reminding, is some-one who should not be in your business. This is regardless of how many sales they make, if customers love them or if they are the life and soul of the party. So what if they made £3k in sales n one week, when they were rude and to their colleagues and would throw them under the bus if it meant they smashed their targets. Long term damage can be done, particularly when it rubs off on others, which is difficult to undo. Think about performance and behaviours as joined up, do not just measure performance in isolation.

But what if it can’t be fixed?

Maybe, you have tried the above, and it just hasn’t worked. You have referred to the HR policies and procedures, used improvement plans and regular monitoring, and things are not improving or getting worse. Then it probably is time to say good bye to them. Take courage, make the decision and execute it in line with the legal framework that HR will support you with. And then, you must reflect and learn from it – how did this happen? It’s easy to make the person under performing the problem, but how did they measure at interview – maybe something needs to change here? What could you have done to have picked this up sooner and dealt with it in the probationary period? Did you spend enough time with them? Did you provide enough support? If they were incompetent, how was it established they were competent in the first place? Ask yourself these questions to help move on from it, and make changes to prevent oversights from happening again.

Treat your organisation like a palace

Some people wont change, some people will. Some leaders will think this is nonsense, and get them out the business quick like pulling off a plaster, others will procrastinate to the point where they take no action at all, and others will do the above, or learn to. Who ever you are on this scale, remember that every action you make or don’t make, has an impact to the point where it affects your employer brand- what your employees think of you- which in the main, what they think of you, does not just stay within the confines of your organisation. Treat your organisation as palace – learn to attract the best, only let in the best, and help people become their best.

If you’d like to know more about how you could implement a high performance culture, contact Or for more inspiration, why not watch my TEDx Talk on how to create happier, more engaged and productive workplaces here

[1] Corporate Leadership Council

[2] Corporate Leadership Council

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