Handling Below Par Performance Graciously – End the Struggle

Avoiding a performance conversation, not intervening in obvious struggle or tackling damaging behaviour is dishonourable and grossly unfair to staff. An awful lot of that goes on.

People know when they are struggling or failing and they’ll know that you know that too. That’s a pretty horrible place for two people to be.

Nonetheless, people do struggle on, often desperate for the boss to intervene. Pride, embarrassment and fear get in the way of them surfacing it themselves.

Like a surgeon removing a growth – decisiveness, action and long term welfare is paramount.

Having the Conversation.

Prepare people for what you have to say.  When you get in the habit of stepping over nothing you will inevitably find that you have some difficult, awkward, perhaps even painful or embarrassing conversations.  (As a marker, if you are not having at least some tricky conversations you are missing something or avoiding issues).

While there is no easy way to say or hear these things, you can make it easier for staff  by conditioning it first. This is very simple. Just say it as it is. For example, suppose you need to have a discussion with your employee about poor performance:

“ John, what I want to talk about isn’t easy for me to say, and may be difficult for you to hear. (Pause.)  Your performance has been below standard for the past four weeks.  Tell me what is going on?”

The point is not to sugar coat what you say, but to enable you to say exactly what you need to say in a way that the other person can hear and understand it.

Clear performance communication works best when you:

Tell people beforehand that you are going to let them know how they are doing.

The first half of the communication;

Tell people immediately. Refuse to avoid talking about tough issues. Separate their behaviour from them as a person. Talk factually about the behaviour – not in judgements about their character.

Tell people what they did which was not effective – be specific.

Stop for a few seconds to let them absorb the information.

Tell people what you want precisely so that they can see clearly what effective performance would look like. (This means agreeing specific, measurable and time bound objectives).

Make it clear what the consequences are for failure to achieve the objectives (for them, the team, the company – sometimes people just don’t see the connection and therefore not the problem).

Be open and sincere towards them as a person, in a way that lets them know you are honestly on their side.  (Make sure you can authentically do that)

The second half of the communication;

Remind them how much you value them. Be specific in their qualities and attitudes.

Reaffirm that you think well of them but not their performance or behaviour in this situation.

Realise that when the reprimand/conversation is over, it is over. Re-create your positive expectations of them.


Paul Fox

Paul Fox has been active as a Construction Industry Performance Coach for the last 20 years and remains at the forefront of Collaborative Working and High Performance Team Behaviours. He disrupts the status quo of individuals, project and senior teams who want exponentially more output with much less struggle.

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