Most managers find that addressing poor work performance is difficult, uncomfortable and even downright awkward. They fear this will create an uncomfortable work environment and damage relationships. Some of them lack skills or confidence, some are new and afraid to start on the wrong foot… Although they are aware that the best first-line response is to nip it in the bud and deal with it before it becomes a problem, they still avoid this at all costs. But not addressing poor work performance has a great impact on your team and organisation.

Managers receive training to improve these skills and gain confidence, yet we continue to witness this as one of the most difficult tasks they have to face in their roles. More often than not, this is because performance conversations are still conducted only at annual or at best bi-annual performance reviews.

Fact: employees want to receive more regular feedback positive and negative!

Recent Harward Business Review survey showed that 72% of employees surveyed believe that individual performance would improve if managers offered constructive and positive feedback.
(Source: Harvard Business Review)

By conducting regular one-to-one performance conversations, you will have the opportunity to discuss and clarify any issues with your team member and address any poor performance issues early on.

Having performance conversations should not be seen as a burden but as an opportunity to coach, develop and grow.

These conversations also allow you to get to know and understand your employee better. Let these regular check-ins become your new culture, your new norm. After all, performance management should be a continuous process.

Different strokes for different folks.

Dealing with different people and capabilities mean that you need to be flexible and adaptable in the way that you manage their performance and as such how you address performance issues. How well you can do this greatly depends on your ability to communicate well, on your self-awareness, self-management and empathy.

If you move away from traditional performance management and learn the skill of coaching for performance, you will not only improve your own performance but you will be able to improve the performance of your employee or a team, and frequent performance conversations will become your  new norm. The GROW coaching model is a simple and effective framework for coaching and joint problem-solving (Goal, Reality, Options, Will).

Once you have identified the performance issue, you will need to have a plan for dealing with it, longer-term. Michael Armstrong suggests these 5 basic steps:

1)      Identify and agree on the problem

2)      Establish and agree the reason(s) for the shortfall

3)      Agree the action required

4)      Provide resources

5)      Close monitoring / follow up

‘Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.’ A. G. Bell

Here are some tips to help you with preparation to address poor work performance:

  • Choose the time and place for the conversation carefully
  • Practice the conversation at least in your head and visualise a successful outcome
  • Be prepared with all the facts and have evidence with specific examples
  • Be clear about your purpose, know and return to your purpose at difficult moments
  • Keep in mind that how you say what you are going to say is just as important as what you say
  • Acknowledge emotional energy (yours and theirs) and direct it towards a useful purpose. Don’t ignore it!
  • Please stay away from a ‘frustrated manager’ role. This will not help you achieve your goal for this conversation
  • Focus on the issue and not on the person, be descriptive, not judgmental
  • Listen! Feedback is a two-way process. Get to the root of the problem, allow yourself to understand your employee and their reasoning, acknowledge any mitigating circumstances
  • Re-visit your objectives to ensure that they are SMART.
  • Do practice and plan strategies for dealing with different responses
  • Give the employee opportunity to come up with an idea to resolve the problem and agree on the action together
  • When an agreement cannot be reached, you must be the one to decide on the way forward

When in doubt, keep these as your reminder:

  • Genuine feedback, honestly and skillfully given and intended to be helpful is worth its weight in gold
  • Once you have mastered the skill you will find it comes more naturally.
  • The purpose of having a performance conversation should not be victory, but progress.
  • Great communication skills are directly linked with employee engagement, responsiveness, productivity and success.
  • Addressing performance issues may not be your favourite conversation to have but it may well have the potential to make your workplace a much more productive place to be.
  • Ask yourself How can I help this person thrive?

Don’t wait, start today!