Managing underperformance

Published on March 30, 2023   29 min
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Well, hello, and welcome to my talk on managing underperformance. I'm Stephen Taylor, and I work at the University of Exeter.
I've been an academic studying human resource management, employment law, and teaching those and associated subjects for many, many years. But before that, I was a practising human resource manager officer. I worked for several years in the National Health Service. And before that, in the hotel industry, so I've had a lot of personal experience of handling underperformance. And also have been involved within the university world, as well, in managing underperformance of colleagues, to an extent.
This is one of the most difficult and challenging activities that managers of people have to carry out. It's hard to get it right, and getting it wrong can have legal consequences, as well as negative organisational consequences. My plan today is to introduce this subject, giving a personal impression drawing on my experience. And also, a case study of a situation I was involved in, involving some poor performance on the part of a senior manager in an organisation I worked for.
Well, the first thing to say by way of introduction, when thinking about managing underperformance, is that it's a very central and time-consuming management activity. And from a human resource management point of view really important, because your credibility with line managers rests, to an extent, on your ability to assist and advise during difficult, challenging situations, which managing underperformance frequently is. You need to do this with confidence, as well as competence, and it's not easy. It's awkward because human emotions are involved. It can get quite difficult from a personal point of view, and therefore, it takes up a lot of time. You have to think about it very carefully and think through all the consequences. Now, my agenda for today is to start by defining the term "underperformance," which isn't that straightforward. There are all kinds of different ways of defining it, thinking about it. I then want to move on to look at how we diagnose causes of underperformance, which can be very varied, before thinking about how to address it effectively. Then, finally, to talk about legal expectations. But before I do any of those things, I just want to start by outlining a little case study.