It’s a truth universally acknowledged that most of us prefer to avoid unnecessary confrontation. But when employee performance is lagging, what can you do to make the task a little easier?
Having a ‘difficult’ conversation is – well – difficult, even if it’s your job to do so. People managers and HR professionals face the challenge of difficult conversations all the time, and it can be very tempting to simply ignore an employee performance problem and hope that it resolves itself.
The dilemma of whether or not to directly address issues of unsatisfactory employee performance can be tricky. Often it is difficult to be sure when a conversation might actually be necessary. When Shane, your secretary, mailed a confidential agreement to the wrong client, was this a one-off accident, or was it part of a pattern of carelessness? Is Susie, the salesperson, behind in her monthly targets due to a slowing market, or because she is not properly following up her contacts?
In our view, a conversation about unsatisfactory employee performance should be held whenever there are issues present that should not be occurring and that are capable of being fixed. It’s generally better to err on the side of choosing to manage an underperforming employee rather than ignoring the situation, as issues are often quickly resolved after they are first brought to an employee’s attention. After all, it can often be a case of you don’t know what you don’t know.
Following are three common examples of unsatisfactory employee performance and tips for how to respond:
1. Failing to meet expectations set by business
Have a conversation about why the employee is not meeting those expectations, what those expectations actually are, and ask the employee for their thoughts on how they can improve. Put realistic and achievable goals for improvement in writing, ask the employee to sign off on the goals and follow up after an appropriate amount of time (between two to four weeks).
2. Consistent carelessness or forgetfulness
Discuss past incidents where this has occurred with the employee, and ask them if they know why it is happening. Ask them what can be done to improve their performance, and review the situation in a set time – or sooner if there is no apparent change in their behaviour.
3. Poor manner when dealing with customers or clients
Discuss relevant examples with the employee, and ask for their view on how they could have handled them better. Again, put realistic and achievable goals for improvement in writing, request the employee to sign off on the goals and follow up after an appropriate amount of time.
In all cases, you should take detailed file notes of any conversations you have with the employee, and seek their input and buy-in as to what can be done to improve, rather than trying to dictate terms to them.
The best way to manage poor employee performance is to address it quickly and efficiently. If issues are allowed to linger, they often only get worse to the point that they can no longer be easily fixed. In our experience, having a ‘challenging’ conversation early on is much easier than dealing with the potentially radioactive fallout from an employment relationship that has been allowed to deteriorate.