Business owners often encounter performance problems among their team members. This can create quite a dilemma where you are uncertain what the real issue is. After all, everyone goes through periods of feeling down and they often aren't business related. It can be an unsettling and embarrassing experience to set up a performance review for a team member only to find out they are going through a crisis at home. Nevertheless, whenever poor performance continues beyond a reasonable time you have to address it in some way.

While it may come, finally, to having to terminate the employee its best to approach this situation knowing as many of the facts as you can and with the aim in mind of helping them lift their performance to an acceptable level. So the first step isn't confronting them with their poor performance but to impartially analyse the situation overall and try and assess just what might be at the bottom of their performance problem.

While this approach can help avoid the all-too-common problem of employees accusing employers of unfair dismissal, the main value of this approach is that improving employee performance is more cost-effective for all involved, compared with firing and hiring a new person.

While any number of things can impact performance here are some common ones to keep in mind.

Inability to do the work

When the person was hired someone made the assessment that they could handle the type of work involved. But do they really have that ability? Look at their employment record to see if they've performed the duties of this job in a previous position. Then look at their basic abilities to see if they really match the job requirements or if you mightn't need to redeploy them. And then look at your hiring process to ensure you are testing applicants for their ability before you hire them.

Not performing at the required level

The ability to perform various tasks underpins particular skills. For example, someone might know their math - that's ability - but still need to learn a number of particular skills before they can be called a bookkeeper. Did this person bring the requisite skills to the job or do they need additional training to develop them? Will you offer to help them learn the skills or move them to a job more suitable to their real skill level? And if they do lack the skills, how did it happen that you hired a person without the right skill set for this job - do your hiring procedures need looking at also?

Doing the wrong job

It's possible that a person has the abilities and skills to do their job but hasn't been given a clear understanding of how these should be applied in the performance of their role with the company. Determine if they know exactly what they should be doing or if their knowledge is incomplete and further explanation is needed.

In this case, your homework may be to develop a clear set of job descriptions for your team. Clear job descriptions can help in choosing the right people to hire, getting them productive fast and keeping them focused on doing what they were employed to do.

Suffering poor morale

There are a number of factors that can cause someone who's perfectly able to do a job well to perform their duties badly. Often the underlying cause has to do with poor morale. There could be a conflict with other team members or resentment over some management decision. If the ability, skills and knowledge are all there, but the person seems to actually choose to perform badly, you need to unearth the reasons why. That's best done in a tactful interview - preferably as part of a formal performance review process.

Fluctuating performance level

For some team members there will be "good" days and "bad" days. But if the bad days occur on a regular basis then they have the potential of causing disruptions to the business and upset among your other team members. You will have to plan some way to minimise any disruption they cause and manage any reduced productivity. You already know they can perform as the job requires so the question here is "why?"

It might require some quite sympathetic interviewing to establish this since it might touch on personality issues or a medical condition but you need to find out whether or not it is the sort of thing you can work around by offering flexible work arrangements or whatever.

External factors affecting performance

Things happening outside the workplace can have a significant impact on a person's job performance. There could be family problems at home, substance abuse or other factors that are not visible to you during their time at work. You need to identify the cause and determine whether the business can take any action to address the problem in terms of getting the employee productive again. The engagement of a counsellor may help the team member return to their previous level of performance.

Employee's problems have a way of becoming the business' problems, so they need to be addressed quickly and effectively. It won't always be possible to find a solution to the problem but it's definitely best to try to help a team member find a way to getting their performance back on track.