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How can I turn around a badly performing workforce?

Effectively dealing with a non-productive workforce involves spotting the weak links early on. Once these have been identified, it is important to act upon them and prevent them from re-occurring.

Assess and redress
Individual employees perform poorly for many reasons and so too can workforces. In the case of a workforce, it can be a lack of direction or low morale.

In every situation a manager needs to examine why the workforce is performing poorly and enact steps to correct the situation. Candid appraisals with representatives of the workforce are a starting point, with perhaps further meetings with individual staff members.

Setting out that you are aware of the lack of performance without blaming anyone but rather trying to improve matters, will help you determine the root causes of the problem – and build trust

Lack of direction
Sometimes a whole group, department or division can simply be lacking in direction. The work bears no relation to where the group is going and there is a lack of objectives.

Providing this direction is obviously required with the addition of a route to getting there, along with the normal motivations and rewards.

It is important to question if the group or department really is working effectively? Everyone may be doing their best, but collectively the good work is being undone by a lack of effective and simple organisation.

Lack of skills
Is the workforce unable to work more effectively? Is it held back by lack of skills and training? Has it lost too many skilled personnel? A workforce which isn't powerfully trained to do its job can never perform.

Poor work environment
Some highly pertinent industry studies have demonstrated that one of the most neglected areas of under performance is the actual look, feel and atmosphere of the work place environment. In other words, dirty, outdated surroundings – perhaps ones which are too hot, too cold etc can be the real reasons for dissatisfaction and poor performance. Conditions are very important to the way employees feel about where they work and the results they achieve.

Unrealistic goals or expectations
Sometimes when targets are set or decided upon, the expectations can be unrealistic for a number of reasons. This can result in the group being given an impossible target which can only result in breakdown and an undeserved reputation for under performance.

Finding an honest answer
Everything we have looked at above are more likely reasons why a department or group is under achieving, but don't forget that there is always the prospect of single individuals becoming disruptive, and sometimes even causing the lack of performance. An unpopular or incompetent line manager, or someone who does not command respect, has to be looked at too.

This is obviously one of the more difficult areas to address and may be pointed up by an effective and fair exit strategy. Seeking the opinions of those who want to leave, and why, within a formal exit strategy should point up the real reasons why a department is not performing in a much more honest way.

Frequent reviews
Once the core reasons for under performance have been identified, the workforce may need recognition, rewards and other motivating strategies to stop the problem. Isolated employee appropriate disciplinary action may need to be taken.

Make sure that you have frequent performance appraisals and use communication to give your employees the resources, training and motivation to perform exceptionally in their jobs.