Failing to meet expectations: Frustrated by high-potential, low performance (Web Sight)

Legalities of dismissal • Personal or organizational causes for poor performance • First, identify the problem • What to do with C-grade employees • Dark side of forced rankings • Test yourself
By Shannon Simson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 07/29/2003


ne of the most frustrating problems many managers face is the underperforming employee. How is it that bright, talented, high-potential people fail to meet expectations? What can be done to help them achieve their goals? How far should employers go to put them back on the right path? These Web sites offer views and solutions from all over the spectrum.

Legalities of dismissal

Toronto-based Loreta Zubas Employment Law offers an excellent resource centre on its Web site. From the homepage, click on “Resource Centre” located in the menu to the left. Under “Employer Issues” there is a section that gives advice to employers considering terminating an employee based on poor performance. Provided is a list of legal standards that employers should strive to meet prior termination in order to protect themselves against a wrongful dismissal lawsuit. Also offered are some great tips for handling poor performers and notes on performance improvement plans.

Personal or organizational causes for poor performance?

These two whitepapers address the phenomenon of bright, talented workers who deliver substandard performance. This can be a real problem for organizations, and as the author points out, “Many managers feel intensely frustrated by subordinates who are obviously bright and intelligent, yet can’t seem to use their ability in positive and useful ways.” The first paper addresses how employees can feel misunderstood by managers and co-workers, and discusses differences in personality types and how they can affect behaviour and attitude toward work. The second paper examines organizational causes for substandard performance. The author suggests that dysfunctional roles and reporting structures are perhaps the bigger part of the problem. Using examples, he identifies what dysfunctional roles are and how they adversely affect performance. He also identifies six “scales” that comprise an effective reporting structure, how to use the scales to ensure that each level reports to an appropriate corresponding level, and common pitfalls in the structure when it is misapplied.

First, identify the problem

This Australian article takes a look at why employees sometimes perform poorly, and explores common contributing factors to poor performance. The main message here is that by first identifying the problem, the employer or manager will be in a better position to assist the employee in achieving performance goals.

What to do with C-grade employees

This whitepaper evaluates forced ranking systems and offers alternatives for managing C-grade performers. The authors suggest that many poor performance issues stem from one or more of four key management barriers. The paper goes on to explain these barriers and offers suggestions for improving the performance of employees without having to resort to a forced ranking system.

Dark side of forced ranking

This article examines the dark side of forced ranking systems. The author first examines some of the arguments in favour of forced ranking — for example — it promotes a spirit of competition in employees to excel. He then goes on to rebut these arguments using a sales example. The main contention is that forced ranking promotes the wrong kind of competitive spirit. It also raises important questions about the value of the ranking criteria.

Test yourself

This is a great resource site with lots of tools and features, including a people strategy tool kit that offers a quiz on progressive discipline. When you first get to the site, you will have to complete the free registration to access the “HR PowerTools.” From there click on “People Strategy Tools,” and under “Coaching, Performance and Training,” select the “Progressive Discipline Quiz.” After the quiz, your score will be displayed along with correct responses and a short rationale behind each question.

Shannon Simson is Canadian HR Reporter’s resource editor. Her Web Sight column appears regularly in the CloseUp section. To share an interesting HR Web site, contact

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