When a long term employee isn’t performing well, it can be a real challenge to manage. Often business owners have developed strong relationships with this employee over their employment. It can be difficult to start a performance management conversation, whether the performance issues started suddenly, or if they’ve become worse over a length of time. Either way, for the sake of your business culture and productivity, and your sanity, it’s best to address the issues as they arise.

Do you have a performance management process for your business? If you do, then following that process, as you would for any employee, is the fair and reasonable thing to do (assuming the process is fair and reasonable). Setting a performance management process that applies to all employees is considered ‘best practice’ and helps employers and managers to act consistently in what can be a challenging time.

If you don’t have a performance management process in place, the steps should look something like this, keeping in mind that this is a generic process, rather than a specific one for your business needs. Before starting any performance management process, remember, this isn’t personal and you should try to keep your emotions out of it as much as possible. Sometimes this can be the hardest part of a performance management process, for both parties.

1. Start by asking yourself if this is a performance management issue, or simply a straightforward opportunity to give some timely feedback to the employee about improvements they could make? If it’s a genuine performance management issue, move onto step two.

2. Arrange a private meeting between yourself and the employee. The employee should be advised what the meeting is about, and they should be offered the opportunity to have a support person present. Since the employee is entitled to have a support person present, we don’t recommend that you ‘spring’ the meeting on the employee, as they should be given enough time to arrange their support person to be present, should they want one.

3. During the meeting, it’s a great idea to document what is discussed. Be clear about the concerns you have about the employee’s performance and be sure to listen to their responses. They may have valid reasons about why their performance has slipped recently, or ideas about how their performance could be improved.

4. Before ending the meeting, review whether both parties have come to an agreement on how improvements are going to be made, including any necessary steps or training required to resolve the issue. Document anything that has been agreed (or disputed).

5. Once the meeting has concluded, take the time to consider any further actions that may need to be implemented. I.e. does a formal warning letter need to be issued? Was there a request for varied hours/duties that may need some logistics worked out? These decisions should not usually be made on the spot, as it’s important to have genuinely considered these issues before taking action.

6. A performance management meeting is not a meeting where the termination of an employee is a foregone conclusion. It is a genuine attempt to find ways to communicate performance issues and resolve them with the employee. Employees who are being performance managed should be given a reasonable opportunity to resolve these performance issues.

7. If, after the meeting, a warning is required, this should be presented in writing, confirming the details that were discussed and agreed upon in the meeting, including what needs to be done differently, and by when.

8. Following up with the employee to check progress with their improvements is imperative. Even if performance has improved, we recommend discussing this with the employee, so they are given timely, relevant feedback on their progress.

If the performance management process is still challenging you, give our Workplace Partners a call to discuss your specific concerns. Our experienced team can help with many employment issues and talk you through the steps to take.

Don’t forget, this is general information only and you should take your own business circumstances into account.