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How to Discuss an Employee Performance Problem

How to Discuss an Employee Performance Problem

Dan McCarthy | Great Leadership

August 24, 2010

The thought occurred to me the other day that while I’ve written a lot about the importance of accountability and dealing with poor performers, I’ve never actually written a post on exactly how to have a performance discussion. I have, however, written about how not to deal with underperformers.

Knowing how to sit down with an employee and have an effective conversation about a performance problem is one of the hardest things for any manager to do, new or experienced, and should never be taken for granted.

It’s also something that’s often screwed up – managers are either too vague and soft or too blunt and harsh. Both won’t get the desired results – improved performance.

We also don’t get to practice it a lot – unlike coaching or listening – so we can’t rely on repetition to get good at it.

Here’s a basic roadmap to follow that works in just about any situation:

1. Get your ducks in a row (preparation):

Something’s happened that has brought the performance problem to your attention. It’s either some objective performance data (sales numbers) or some kind of behavioral issue (falling asleep in a meeting). Gather all the data you can – get input from other sources if you can. It’s like CSI work – you’re gathering evidence to be able to convince yourself first, then the employee.

Then, write an outline of what you want to say and how you want to say it. If it’s serious stuff, you’ll want to involve your friendly local HR person. No, really – involve them. This is when you’ll realize how valuable a good HR pro can be. They deal with this nonsense on a regular basis.

Schedule a meeting – allow an hour – in a private location (closed door office or conference room). There’s no good time to have this kind of conversation, but Friday afternoon might be about the best.

2. Explain the performance issue.

Forget the friendly small talk – just get to the point. In a calm and conversational manner, explain to the employee what the performance issue or behavior is and why it concerns you. There are a couple models for doing this:

- SBR (Situation, Behavior, and Result): “In our meeting this week, you fell asleep. I had to wake you up and embarrass you in front of your peers.”

- BFE (Behavior, Feeling, and Effect): “When you fell asleep in our meeting, I felt like you were not interested in what I had to say. That sets a poor example for the rest of the team.”

However you do it, you’re basically helping the employee understand what exactly you are concerned about and why it concerns you.

Next: Ask for Reasons and Listen >>


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