Getting Back on Track

Getting Back on Track

Almost everyone comes to work wanting to succeed. But, for many reasons, even good employees can struggle to consistently meet our standards. If you have set expectations, given feedback and coaching and perhaps a verbal reprimand, but your standards aren’t being metit’s time for more formal action.
It may be too early for disciplinary action but a formal conversation and documented turnaround plan is required. Note: follow these guidelines if the person is within their 90-day trial period.



Our five step approach

Your job is to tackle the problem early, learn its causes, and work with the team member to fix it promptly. Experience shows our simple five-step process (below) usually gets things back on track. (Note: For more detail refer to our guidelines).

1. A team member won’t fix a problem they don’t accept exists or won’t take responsibility for fixing. So before talking to the team memberassemble enough facts, examples, proof of the issue to convince them change is necessary.  Also, think about possible causes for the problem, consequences if it’s not fixed and have some ideas for a turnaround plan. Use our our   conversation plan template to script the conversation and our guidelines to help you prepare. Our ccarers question list may help you diagnose possible causes and offers questions you might use to explore the problem. Arrange a quite meeting place. Note: Since this isn’t a disciplinary issue they don’t need a support person. If they want one – no problem.
2. Work through your conversation plan. Explain the purpose of the meeting.  Lay out your evidence of the problem. Balance your concerns against the overall pattern of their performance and strengths. Explain the consequences (for all concerned) of not solving the issue (e.g. if a continuation may impact their promotion chances, performance appraisal, salary review – say so).  Ask for their explanation and explore it until you are satisfied you fully understand the issue. Be ready for a shocked or defensive response or denial. Challenge their explanation if you doubt it. Don’t compromise your standards. If you hear an explanation you are unsure of, adjourn and check it out. Our guidelines may help.
3. Having diagnosed the issue you can decide how to address it. This is the crossroads in the conversation. Typically the problem will be either a ‘can’t do’ or a ‘won’t do’ issue. Each requires a different response.  ‘Can’t do’ problems (e.g. lack of skill, tools, time, information, support, health or personal problem etc) call for coaching, training etc. ‘Won’t do’ problems (e.g. lack of effort, commitment, protest, carelessness etc) require a change in attitude and, if that’s not promptly forthcoming, quickly call for disciplinary action. In either case, the first step is to get their agreement they will work to meet your standards. Without that agreement there is no point discussing a turnaround plan. Ask the person directly whether they agree to get back on track and deliver the standards you require.  Don’t move on without that agreement. If they won’t agree, reiterate the evidence, your concerns and the consequences of not solving the issue. If that doesn’t work – adjourn, give them perhaps 24hrs to think things through. If resistance continues, talk to your manager and HR, it may be time for a disciplinary process.
4. With their commitment to get things back on track in place, you will both benefit from having a good plan to remedy the underlying issues. Asking for their ideas is a good start. It tests their sincerity and typically we will have greater commitment to a plan we made ourselves. See our  guidelines and typical remediesfor some ideas. Be realistic, but don’t compromise your standards. Use our  turnaround plan template to capture that detail including how you will monitor improvement. Close positively by asking for their commitment to the plan, and expressing confidence the situation can be fixed.
5. Our guidelines suggest that, as a minimum, you should hold regular ‘on track’ conversations until the problem is fixed. Satisfy yourself the right progress is being made, either by personal inspection or talking with people who would know. Make sure you deliver on any commitments you made about training or other support.  Don’t forget to be positive and encouraging where good progress is being made. If the issue isn’t fixed and it’s a ‘won’t do’ issue thentalk with your manager and HR. A disciplinary process is probably required. Sometimes, despite everyone’s efforts the person can’t reach the required standards. Again, talk to HR and your manager about options including how to manage them out of their current role. If the initial turnaround plan is not working, you may need to talk with HR about  writing to the employee saying that if specific improvements are not made within a defined time frame, disciplinary action will be taken. If the employee has a 90 day trial period and you wish to dismiss them, the termination (including the notice period) must be complete within the 90 days.

Common problems and how to handle them

Read specific advice on handling the following kinds of problems; poor understanding of job requirements, inadequate commitment/effort, lack of time/materials/support a minor or uncharacteristic incident of unacceptable behaviour or a continuation/repetition of poor performance.

Handling personal problems that impact work performance

Sometimes problems in an employee’s personal life (e.g. family, money, gambling, drinking, relationships,depression etc) impact their work performance. As their manager, you have an obligation to care for them (we provide professional support through our EAP program) but also to minimise the work impact of the situation is minimised. Often, these are emotional and sensitive areas and our handling of them must reflect that. Our guidelines and conversation plan will help you prepare well and become confident in handling these situations.

What if things don’t improve?

If the turnaround plan is not working, talk to HR. The options will probably be either to begin disciplinary action or write to them indicating that if the issues aren’t resolved by a particular date disciplinary action will begin.  If the employee has a 90 day trial period and you wish to dismiss them, contact HR as soon as possible, the termination (including the notice period) must be completed within the 90 days.