Correcting Performance without Dismissal | EAPA-SA

Performance management is without doubt an important aspect of every manager’s job.  A manager’s primary task is to ensure high levels of productivity within a team by maximising each member of the team’s potential, and of the team as a whole.  This is never an easy task and periodically, even with effective management of motivated employees working in a healthy environment, there will be some employees who are not meeting the standard of performance expected from them.

In an article published on the SA Labour Guide portal titled Poor Performance Does Not Automatically Merit Dismissal the author states:

If employees receive their pay they are obliged by law to do their jobs properly. Although the law allows employers, within reason, to decide what the proper standards of performance are, the employer will, if taken to the CCMA, be required to prove that:

  • The employee knew what the required performance standard was
  • The standard was realistically achievable
  • The employee was given sufficient opportunity to achieve the standard
  • It was the employee’s fault that he/she failed to achieve the

The article concludes by saying:

Employers should not dismiss under-performers without having attended to the above requirements and without having followed proper procedure. Instead of fabricating charges and blaming the wrong employee employers need to:

  • Investigate properly so as to identify where exactly the problem lies
  • Set clearly achievable performance targets
  • Adjust targets when changed circumstances dictate this
  • Give employees a real chance to achieve the desired performance level
  • Remove all obstructions to the achievement of the standards.1


Here are five top tips to handling poor employee performance effectively:

  1. Be specific with facts

It is essential to meet, and be open, with your employees about the standard of their performance. When facing an employee to discuss their less than excellent performance it is imperative to be able to refer to formal record and documentation. For example, if an employee has been regularly late or absent from work over a period of time, specify the details.  Be direct and precise – and ensure that you do not use critical personal statements that will reduce the self-esteem of the employee. Be sure to restate company policy accordingly.

  1. Consider your employees’ point of view

Poor performance is not always as a result of an employee being careless or disinterested. There can be many legitimate reasons for lack of performance and these will vary from person to person.  First gain an understanding of the person’s grounds for poor performance.  This will allow you to ascertain if they have genuine justification for not meeting standards, or not.  Either way, concentrate on their concerns and provide solutions accordingly. For example, if an employee is not able to concentrate on their work due to personal stress, arrange for counselling sessions and make sure they are enabled to get back on track. Set a date a reasonable time ahead to review their performance.

  1. Provide feedback

It is always advisable to be clear and direct in your communication with employees, however everyone handles feedback differently. There are certain strategies that you can adopt to be effective in communicating your feedback.

  • Be timely: The closer to the event you address the issue, the better.
  • Make it regular: Simple, informal feedback should be given as often as necessary.
  • Prepare your comments: Be clear about what you are going to say
  • Be specific: Tell the person exactly what they need to improve
  • Criticise in private: While public recognition is appreciated, public scrutiny is not.
  • Use “I” statements: Give feedback from your perspective. This way you avoid labelling the person.
  • Limit your focus: A feedback session should discuss no more than two issues at one time.
  • Try to make it a positive experience: The purpose of giving feedback is to improve the situation or the person’s performance.2
  1. Provide performance support through training

When faced with employees who are falling short of meeting expectations, it makes financial sense to offer them retraining and appropriate resources to help them improve, over having to appoint and train a new staff member. Discussions with an employee about retraining should be handled from an employee-oriented perspective. The original performance review should involve active employee participation and discussion regarding the options available for improving performance. When employees actively participate in creating their own action plan, they are far more likely to remain engaged in their retraining programme and dedicated to improvement. In the event the employee appears to be putting a significant amount of effort into retraining and yet still struggles to complete tasks to a satisfactory standard they may not possess the appropriate aptitudes or skills needed for certain aspects of the position.

  1. Offer rewards and recognition

When you experience an employee’s poor performance, it could well be beneficial to the individual and the whole team to adopt a rewards and recognition programme. This can serve to generate swift and consistent improvement across the board while not having to single one person out.   A schedule can be circulated that ranks the best to worst performer on a weekly or monthly basis, and rewards awarded to the top performers.   It is important to make the rewards achievable.

  1. Work through the company’s processes 

First-rate managers will always hold out hope for improvement – until the point at which it becomes evident that they have to let the underperforming employee go.  It is absolutely crucial to ensure that company procedure has been followed to the letter, which will allow dismissal of the employee if it comes to this.  If you have reached this point, you ought to be having very clear discussions with your HR department so that you are doing exactly what is required in order to clear the path to termination, if all other avenues have been exhausted and this turns out to be necessary.4