Four Steps for Handling Poor Performance Effectively

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Do you have someone on your team who is not performing? You can see it on the monthly report. They receive the same report as you do, so you know that they are aware of the situation. You had hoped that by now they would have taken action. You did drop a hint some time ago that things were not as they should be, but it had no effect.

Giving an employee feedback on poor performance is one of the easiest confrontational conversations a manager is likely to encounter: yet these conversations are handled badly, if at all. Inevitably, the longer the performance problem is allowed to persist, the worse the situation becomes and the more difficult the conversations become!

There is only one solution. Just do it! Follow the steps below. It may not be an easy conversation, but with some planning and a little care, it can be effective in changing behaviour without damaging the self-esteem of the employee or their relationship with you.

Start by setting the tone in your opening statement. Do not threaten, or sound threatening. That makes the person feel unsafe and will result in their becoming defensive or shutting down completely. Go straight to the point by signaling that an important conversation is coming along. You might say, Can we look at your performance figures for the past couple of months? I am concerned.

Secondly, lead into the conversation, starting with the facts that have given rise to your concern. Do your homework so you have them clear and straight. Choose just enough data to make your point. If you overload the person with data you may confuse the issue or sound accusing. Avoid classic irritators such as, You are always below target, or, Your reports are never on time. Avoid accusations in statements such as, You spoke abruptly to the customer. Statements like these which accuse and exaggerate create an emotional response from the person, who will feel a need to defend their actions. This can lead into a heated and damaging debate from which both manager and employee emerge wishing the conversation had never taken place.

The third step is to explain how you see the situation, and perhaps explain the implications of the poor performance. In this step you are underlining the need for change and your determination that things cannot continue as they are. You might say, I know you are capable of better performance, and I would like to address this problem.

Lastly, ask the employee for their view, by saying, How do you see the situation, or, What is the problem here. This is the crux of the confrontation. Do not sidestep it. If you do not encourage dialogue with the employee you are unlikely to get to the bottom of the problem, and therefore you are unlikely ever to find a solution that will solve it.

When you have asked the employee to explain how they see the situation, you have to listen! You must allow them to give their view. For you, this can be the hardest part of the conversation. You might even discover that your own behaviour has contributed to the problem! However, unless you get the employee's input to the problem, any solution you think you have agreed is unlikely to have their commitment and you will find yourself facing a performance problem that never goes away.

About the Author:

Maureen Collins has a B.Sc. degree in Psychology from Edinburgh University and over 25 years of management and consulting experience. In Straight Talk, she trains people how to handle difficult conversations, on difficult topics, with difficult people. Sign up for free Straight Talk Tips on

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