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.
2) HAVE EXAMPLES
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.