Take the Pain Out of Performance Talks

What to do when the conversation 
gets difficult…

Managers love to do evaluations when employees are doing great work. It’s typically an easy conversation about how successfully the employee completed their goals last year and setting new goals. Quickly the conversation turns to a pay raise and if your company can afford a pay raise that sounds fair and rewards the employee’s efforts everyone is happy. Unfortunately, all performance conversations don’t go that well. In fact, some performance conversations can be down right painful!

Here are some ideas that might take the pain out of those difficult conversations.

  1. Relax, it will help the employee to relax. And don’t procrastinate – the earlier the conversation takes place, the less frustrated you are likely to be about the poor performance.
  2. Take the conversation to a closed-door conference room or office and eliminate, if possible, any interruptions. This sends the message that the conversation is important to you and to the employee.
  3. Be prepared. Have the employee’s job description, any notes that you have taken from incidents that have happened that lead you to this conversation. Do your homework regarding any training that may be helpful to the employee and be open to listening to the employee.
  4. Look for themes in performance problems, does it look like the employee doesn’t take the time needed to do the work, is the employee not picking up on the details, is there a skill that they seem to lack that shows up in different areas of the work?
  5. Let the employee talk about how they think things are going. Maybe you will find out that they need more quiet time, or time with fewer interruptions. Perhaps they do not have the required Excel skill level required for the job and the lack of knowledge is slowing down the work.
  6. Be specific about the mistakes and low performance. Bring samples and show where this area of responsibility is included on their job description.
  7. Work with the employee to determine if more training would be helpful or if he/she might need outside training. If the employee seems to be doing well in other areas of the job, this might be a good investment of time and training dollars.
  8. Document the conversation. If this is the first conversation you are having with the employee about their performance, making notes for the file may be enough. If it is not the first, you will want to document the conversation as a Written Warning and have the employee sign the document for their file.
  9. Give the employee a little time to improve after the conversation. Sometimes honest feedback is what it takes to get the employee to start to make improvements.
  10. If the employee does not improve within a reasonable length of time, have another conversation – a more serious conversation – about what will happen if the poor performance continues.
  11. Don’t let the personal problems or life circumstances of the employee keep you from having the conversations and making the decisions you need to make for your business. Business decisions are often hard, and managers and business owners have a responsibility to their customers, other employees, themselves, and their families to make the right decisions at the right time.

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