Research suggests that the retail sector is blighted by a greater than average proportion of poor-performing employees. Petra Cook looks at the importance of resolving the problem

In a recent report by Personnel Today and HR consultants Chiumento identifying approaches to performance management, retail was one of the sectors deemed to have a higher proportion of poor-performing employees than others. This must be a concern for retail managers because individual poor performance impacts heavily on the bottom line and can damage the morale of others.
However, it is also one of the most difficult aspects of people management to get right and, if handled incorrectly, can become a major problem for the whole team. At one stage or another during their careers, most managers will be required to tackle incidents of poor performance and it is therefore essential to develop the appropriate skills to handle such situations.
There is sometimes a perception that performance management equals appraisal. While appraisals do form part of the process, performance management should be much more. It should begin from the moment of recruitment by attracting those who have similar personal values to those of the organisation.
It is also worth taking time to consider how an individual will fit in with other team members before employing them. A personality clash can lead to problems later on and can be difficult to solve, so ensuring that new employees feel part of
the team from the outset is essential.
Introducing new employees to their objectives and key performance indicators (KPIs) at an early stage will help them focus on specific business goals and provide clear guidance on the level of achievement expected. Working with new starters to make sure their objectives are stretching but not overwhelming will help ensure that employees are challenged and given enough development opportunities to support both their individual needs and the strategic aims of the company.
Creating the right kind of culture is also important and, as a leader of a team, you should set a strong example from which others can learn.
Research carried out by the Chartered Management Institute and recruitment agency Adecco shows that the most prevalent styles cited by managers who feel demotivated are bureaucratic, authoritarian and reactive, so using your skills to motivate people is essential to avoid apathy and low morale. Performance management should be a positive process and good systems will create a culture in which success is celebrated. Nevertheless, poor performance will exist and could be the symptom of a range of problems.
In the first instance, it is important to establish the root cause of poor performance. Factors outside of work can often be a reason, especially if the dip in performance is a unique occurrence. If this is the issue, then explore how to provide support - perhaps some time away from work is needed, for example.
If the issue is more work-related, discuss the agreed KPIs with employees to help them understand where and how their performance has suffered. It can be helpful if you give specific examples of poor performance to demonstrate failed objectives or problems within the team and suggest ways of improving performance with short-term targets to reach.
This might be an opportunity for you to develop your coaching skills to help employees through a period of poor performance. Perhaps you could hold regular meetings to give feedback on progress made, work through any concerns and discuss next steps.
Ultimately, poor performance should be addressed at the earliest sign of its occurrence, before it grows into a big problem that has a negative impact on the rest of the team. Not only does dealing with it help to develop your team’s skills and increase performance, but the way in which you address it can also help develop your own management skills and, in turn, your own management career.
n Petra Cook is head of Public Affairs, Chartered Management Institute