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How to have ‘that’ conversation: Managing poor performance

Always slacking off. Not meeting deadlines. Producing low quality work. These are all triggers for you to have ‘that’ conversation – the one addressing poor performance. However it’s a conversation many fear immensely.

Whilst this conversation may initially be uncomfortable for those involved, it should not be avoided. By addressing the performance issue early on, you are giving the employee a chance to modify their behaviour before it has a much larger, negative effect on the business.

Here’s a look at what commonly runs through an employer’s mind when faced with the task of conducting a difficult performance conversation and our responses.

How do I approach the conversation without it seeming like a confrontation?

Before you start your conversation, put your employee at ease by letting them know it is a two-way discussion, with the mutual goal to review performance and set goals for improvement and career development. Conduct the conversation in private so that the employee does not feel embarrassed or as if they are being ‘told off’ in front of other workers.

I’m scared that what I say will be seen as a personal attack and taken the wrong way….

Make sure that your observations are about specific actions and behaviours that are observable and measurable, such as not meeting a monthly sales quota. Enter the conversation prepared with as much factual evidence as possible n the form of sales figures, KPI measurements or customer feedback. By relying on facts and figures, you take the emotive angle out of the conversation and signal to your employee that you are focusing purely on their outputs.

I’ve let them know my thoughts – now what?

It is important that you give your employee the opportunity to respond to your feedback about their performance. As it is their performance that is being reviewed, it makes sense that they should be able to explain how they performed and why they felt it was appropriate. When identifying areas for improvement, there should be a two-way input into what your employee needs to do in order to meet business expectations and how you can support them in doing so.

How do I let them know what I really want from them?

Setting clear expectations is one of the most important things that managers can do for their staff in their jobs.  Employees (new or experienced) need to know what’s expected to get the job done well. It’s nearly impossible for an employee to know what they are to achieve if expectations have not yet been clearly set.

If you haven’t already set clear expectations for your employee, we strongly recommend ensuring they clearly understand what is expected of them in terms of performance or behaviours.  Draft up a set of KPIs (key performance indicators) which outline exactly what’s required of them to be successful or competent in their role. This will help to shift their focus and behaviour to make a positive change.

About the Author

Paula Maidens is Managing Director of Recruitment Coach, a unique HR coaching and consulting firm for small-medium businesses.