Monthly Archives: January 2015

A Guide to Performance Planning: Part 3

Today’s post is a continuation of two earlier posts on performance planning. If you have not read those yet, I suggest starting here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.

So, now that you’ve done your planning and had the conversation with your employee, you’re in the clear, right? Not so fast. As I mentioned earlier, the reason you are investing in a performance plan is because it is in everyone’s best interest for your employee to succeed. To maximize the probability this will happen, you both still have a lot of work to do. Today I’m going to address some best practices for managing an employee on a performance plan.

There are many different ways to structure a plan, and while I have my views on that, I’m going to focus here on best practices for approaching the follow through, rather than the format of the plan itself.

1) Document It

In many corporate settings, managers are required to document performance plans. Even if it is not required at your organization, I recommend you document performance plans. The first reason for this is to increase the effectiveness of communication between you and your employee.  You may think you have agreement in a meeting only to learn much later that your employee misunderstood you.  Having them review and sign off on their understanding of the document is a great way to guard against miscommunications.  Documenting it also ensures that everyone agrees on the expectations and the ways in which progress will be evaluated. Additionally, having a living document  is  an easy way to track progress and make the plan transparent.  No matter what format you choose, make sure it is written down and shared with all relevant parties.

2) Make it a Collaboration

While you as the manager are ultimately responsible for creating the plan and evaluating your employee, you should still approach performance planning as a partnership. After all, your employee is the one who has to actually change their behavior, so you need to make sure they understand the plan and that they believe it is attainable. Involving your employee in the creation of the plan has some other benefits too. Firstly, having them partner with you to create it gives them a sense of control over the process. This, in turn, will increase their motivation to follow the plan. Secondly, they likely understand the daily details of their role better than you do. Therefore, their input on what is reasonable and attainable is key to making sure your plan is realistic.

3) Check in regularly

One of the most common reasons why performance plans fail to result in actual behavioral shifts is that they become static documents that are abandoned soon after the initial feedback conversation. The plan should be a living document, used to track progress and document examples. That said, the plan itself cannot substitute for continued open conversations between the manager and the employee. Set regularly scheduled meetings, review the plan, and agree on progress or setbacks in an open and direct dialogue. This ensures that you are getting on the same page regularly, so that you won’t be surprised by a major disagreement at the end of the assessment time frame.

4) Get outside opinions

While you and the employee are the main owners of the plan, it is very helpful to get outside opinions on how much progress is being made. Just as you checked in with relevant co-workers to gather the initial feedback, you should continue to follow up with those people to get their views on the progress being made. This ensures objectivity, and it helps you to get a more accurate picture of your employee’s performance. Perhaps there are some aspects of the plan where they are excelling while they are still hitting major roadblocks in other areas. You might miss this if you don’t regularly get feedback from people who interact with your employee on different aspects of their role.

A Guide to Performance Planning: Part 2

As a follow-up to last week’s post, today I’m addressing tips for how to approach a performance conversation with an employee who is performing below expectations. If you haven’t read last weeks post, which was about how to prepare for the conversation, I suggest starting there.

1) Get Their View

First of all, you should make it clear to your employee what the topic of the meeting will be. Performance conversations are always stressful, and making it a surprise will not create the best starting point for open communication. I recommend that managers start by asking the employee for their view on how they are doing. This is for a few reasons. First, you get a sense of where they see themselves- sometimes their self-perception is more accurate than you expect. Secondly, it is very helpful to know how disparate your perception of the performance is from theirs. This way, you start the conversation aware of whether you need to explain your perspective to them completely (and rely on your examples), or whether you can use the time to focus more on understanding the reasons behind the poor performance.

2) Stay Inquisitive

A mistake many managers make is going into a conversation with the mindset of proving their point. While it is important to go into a conversation prepared, you also need to keep an open mind and consider that you may not have all the facts about a person’s performance or the challenges they are facing. Stay inquisitive by sharing your examples and your view on what’s going well as well as what is going poorly; but be sure to also ask questions of your employee. For example, what are the biggest challenges for them? What are the weaknesses that they feel are getting in the way of their success? Staying inquisitive ensures that it remains a conversation, not a one-way lecture.

3) Put It In Perspective

I bring this up a lot when discussing performance conversations, but it is so vitally important that it bear repeating. Putting the feedback or criticism into perspective of where the employee is against expectations and what the  consequences are of their current position. For example, if you have a very high-peforming employee, and you want to give them some critical feedback because you think they have the potential to be even better. If you don’t put this feedback into perspective, they may get discouraged and lose motivation. On the flip side, if you try to have a performance conversation with an under-performer and you don’t make it very clear where they stand, they may leave the meeting thinking they have some room for improvement without realizing they are on the verge of losing their job. Therefore, putting it in perspective is important and must include and overall status of where they are against where they should be as well as a clear indication of the consequences of their performance.

4) Diagnose

Once you have gotten their perspective and learned about their situation by staying inquisitive, it is time to shift your focus to diagnosing the root causes behind the poor performance. There are many things that could be to blame: bad or unclear organizational design, poor processes or technology, a lack of training, or a personal weakness. The most common pitfall is to assume that it must be the latter- that if an employee is under-performing it MUST be because of an incurable personal weakness. While that very well may be the case, it is your responsibility as the manager to make an accurate diagnosis.

5) End With Clear Next Steps

If you have taken the time to have this conversation and develop a performance plan for an employee, which is a large investment of time and effort, you want to do everything in your power to maximize their chances of succeeding. Ending a difficult conversation with clear next steps will ensure that your employee has a concrete action plan to focus on. Without this, it is very easy for most people to get caught up in a negative emotional cycle. Since these meetings are often tense, and it is hard to concentrate and think logically when you are upset, it is best practice to follow up with a written summary of agreed-upon next steps. This is a great way to make sure you are on the same page with your employee, and it gives them the opportunity to challenge or ask questions.

A Guide to Performance Planning: Part 1

One of the challenges my clients frequently present to me is how to handle an employee who is under-performing. It is undoubtedly one of the hardest management skills to master, and of course it is also one of the most important. Since I spent the majority of my career focusing on how to transform poorly-performing teams, I have learned the hard way what works and what does not. Of course, there is no one way to handle this situation, and customization for each employee is a key aspect of success.

I’m dividing this guide into 3 parts. Today’s post will focus on your preparation for the conversation with an employee who is not performing well. Parts 2 and 3 (to follow over the next week) will review the conversation itself and the follow through after the conversation, respectively.


The first key to having a good conversation around performance is preparation. I cannot state this enough. If you go into a performance discussion without having done your due diligence, it will not go well. But what exactly do I mean by “preparation”? It is vital that you understand both your employee AND what they do on a daily basis. Think you’re familiar with the technology they use but haven’t spent time looking at it in a while? Ask to shadow them for an hour or two or have them walk you through it. Not sure how they go about leading meetings? Attend one. Don’t assume that you know how they are acting based on what they tell you or your assumption from the results they are producing. Take the time to get to know them and their work.


Nine times out of ten, if you give someone critical feedback, their response is going to be, “Can you give me an example of that?” You want to be prepared for this, so make sure you have two-three examples of the relevant behavior. They should be recent, so that it is fresh in both of your minds. You should also have something concrete, not just an impression. For example, if your employee is struggling with client interactions, bring a negative customer review as an example. By bringing examples, you can illustrate your points and have a productive conversation about the other person’s development areas, rather than a debate about whether the development areas exist.


You are probably confident in your assessment that this employee is not performing up to your standard. Even if you are, ask other people for their views. Even the best managers have blind spots and biased perspectives. You owe it to yourself and to your employee to ask people from different vantage points what they see. Make sure to ask people with both different perspectives (e.g. peers, other managers, customers, etc) and people with different personality types. That should help to give you a more comprehensive view and put a check and balance on any biases or assumptions you are unconsciously making.

Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 of the Performance Planning Guide to learn more about what to do in your initial conversation and how to follow through afterwards.