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How to tackle poor performance


You may want to avoid confronting issues with staff but a good manager never does

Nurses are often shy when it comes to approaching a member of their team who is not performing well, but this is something they need to be able to do if they want to be a good manager.

Managers tend to be concerned that an individual may be performing badly because of circumstances beyond their control, such as scarce resources. Before confronting that person, they may wonder whether they themselves could do the job better than the person concerned if they were in the same situation. It is this train of thought that deter managers from confronting individual team members.

But the longer you leave it, the worse it will be. There is a false assumption that “nice” people don’t raise concerns. That’s just not true. Good managers will raise issues and deal with them early. Poor managers wait and wait until a catastrophe happens, and then they deal with it.

Often in disciplinaries you see people for whom the procedure is the first time they are advised about their behaviour. If you think about parenting that way - for example, if you waited until something bad happened before telling a child it is a bad idea to run out of the gate or cross the road - it would be considered extremely bad parenting. If you want to be a good manager, you’ll frequently give staff feedback - and that will be feedback that is both positive and negative.

Tips on handling a team member who is struggling

● Don’t delay. Nice managers handle issues straight away and don’t procrastinate
● Discuss how they could handle the situation differently
● Give both positive and negative feedback regularly
● Critique the behaviour, not the person
● Don’t worry about the circumstances surrounding the performance - make handling these part of the conversation

You can tell your staff how they are a good nurse. But you can also say that you didn’t think the choice they made on a particular day was the right one, then discuss how it could have been done better.

You have to separate the person from the behaviour and ensure you don’t make the issue you are raising personal. Critique what the person has done, not the person. You can really value a person but have some things to say about how they could improve what they did.

If someone is struggling, they may be grateful that you raised the issue. They will probably know they aren’t doing a good job and will be stressed at trying to hide it from you, as their manager. In all likelihood, they will be grateful to you for spotting it.

You can talk to them about how to cope with the circumstances that have limited their behaviour to do things in the way they should have been done. You can say you can’t promise that they will never be in an understaffed ward again, for example, but you can talk about their strategy to handle it when it does happen. You can discuss the different choices they can make.

A good manager will frequently say how things could have been done differently in order to improve team performance.

Elaine Maxwell has over 30 years’ nursing experience, including as a ward sister, a senior nurse and as a director of nursing. She is currently an assistant director at the Health Foundation


Readers' comments (5)

  • Great advice - thank you. I would add that a good manager also takes time to regularly acknowledge good performance. This promotes more trust, motivation and mutual respect in a team - and may result in (a) less need to tackle poor performance and (b) easier conversations if such feedback is necessary.

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  • I really valued the suggestions and the positive,negative and positive approach is a very good way of tackling the issue,a sandwich method I say....

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  • Many "poorly performing" colleagues occupy jobs to which they are not well suited.

    Then there are those who are exhausted and burnt out.

    Lack of resource will often expose individuals to accusations of "poor performance" when in fact the responsibility lays with the organisation and its "managers"

    Recognising and helping those in difficulty should be seen as a prime responsibly of those occupying "managerial" positions.

    Regretfully many of these so called managers would rather allow a situation to deteriorate (hastened by some judicious bullying) they can then employ the full weight of the disciplinary process and often succeed in destroying an individuals career.

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  • failing, lazy, incompetent and uncaring managers who don't support or supervise their staff are the ones who should be facing disciplinary action. it is a managers job to ensure their staff are confident and competent in their work.

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  • what about poorly performing managers? - who raises that 'concern'.

    what about bullying managers who think little of their staff and their 'let them have enough rope' attitude.

    what about staff who approach their manager with a personal worry but get fobbed off and ignored.

    what about managers who constantly put their staff under stress with poor staffing and poor skill mix.

    what about managers who fail to perform appraisals, staff support sessions.

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