How to Discuss Poor Performance With an Employee

How to discuss poor performance with an employee — it’s one of the most challenging jobs for a supervisor or manager. I often get asked for guidance on how to handle this situation more effectively, therefore, I’m giving you four steps to reach a more productive outcome when talking with an employee about poor performance.

How to Discuss Poor Performance With an Employee

1. Get Right to It

Many people will tell you to use the “sandwich approach.” It works like this: compliment the employee on something good about their performance — tell the employee what they are doing poorly — then tell them something good again.  I am completely opposed to this.

“Sandwiching” poor performance between compliments of good performance often leaves the employee confused about your message and intent. That’s why I say, “get right to it.”

My opening line goes something like this, “John, this is not my favorite part of my job, but it is a part of my job that I must do. So it’s my job to tell you about some concerns I have relative to your performance.”

2.  Be Specific about Poor Performance

You must tell the employee very specifically what the performance problem is and it’s best to have specific examples documented. For that reason, my Critical Incident File is a great method for tracking this information.

3.  Define Expectations for Performance Improvement

Additionally, you must be define specific expectations for performance improvements. Clearly communicate how their performance behaviors must change.  If there is a time frame for the improvements to happen, define exactly what the time frame is.  Additionally, you can help employees measure their progress using these questions.

4.  Offer Encouragement

As uncomfortable as discussing poor performance may be, it is important to finish with encouragement. So my closing line sounds like this, “Jen, I care about you and your performance. If I didn’t think you could improve, we wouldn’t be having a conversation about it. I know you can do more and I’m here to support you in your efforts.”

Need Help Improving Your Leaders & Teams Communication? Let’s Talk About It.

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Phillip Van Hooser
Author: Phillip Van Hooser
Phillip Van Hooser, CSP, CPAE is committed to helping organizations transform their business outcomes by building engaged employee relationships. He is an award-winning keynote speaker and author on leadership, service and communication. His popular book, “Willie's Way: 6 Secrets for Wooing, Wowing and Winning Customers and Their Loyalty” recently hit #1 in Customer Relations on the Kindle store. Connect with Phil on LinkedIn and Facebook.

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