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U.S. Office of Personnel Management - Ensuring the Federal Government has an effective civilian workforce

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Resource Center for Addressing and Resolving Poor Performance

Tips for Preventing Poor Performance

The best way for supervisors to handle poor performance issues is to take action to avoid performance problems before they occur. Such preventive actions include:

  1. Communicating clear performance standards and expectations to employees. (Consider sharing your supervisor’s performance expectations with your staff.)

    If your employees don’t understand what is expected, it will be very hard, if not impossible, for them to meet those expectations. Providing clear expectations doesn’t necessarily require you to lay out precisely written, detailed instructions on every performance component. Generally, the question you should ask yourself is: "Would a reasonable person understand what was expected?"

  2. Providing regular and frequent feedback on performance.

    Such feedback, both positive and negative, whether given in regularly scheduled meetings or in unscheduled discussions, is crucial to ensuring that expectations are understood. Frequent feedback lessens the likelihood that an employee will be surprised if it becomes necessary to take formal steps to resolve poor performance. Always look for opportunities to confirm that your employees understand what is expected.

  3. Rewarding and recognizing good performance, informally and formally.

    Recognizing good performance is simply another way of clarifying expectations. Recognizing good performance also increases the likelihood that good performance will continue.

  4. Making full use of the probationary period for new employees.

    The importance of the probationary or trial period is discussed in more detail under the "Special Topics" section of this booklet. Performance problems often first show up during the initial period of Government employment. This period is designed to provide an opportunity for management to address such problems. Furthermore, an employee who is terminated during this period is not entitled to most of the procedures and appeal rights granted to employees who have completed probationary/trial periods.

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