10-Point Checklist For Confronting Poor Performance

by  Leigh Steere  |  Workplace Issues

This is part 3 of a 3-part series on dealing with poor performance. The first two are Part 1: The Urgency of Dealing With Poor Performance and Part 2: 13 Bad Excuses for Letting Poor Performance Slide.

Many managers view “reprimanding” in the same way they view root canals—something to dread or even avoid. But if an employee is doing something that jeopardizes business results or relationships, the manager needs to say something. Letting the behavior continue can damage the organization, the employee’s career, coworkers’ morale and your reputation as a manager.

Feedback, even if it stings temporarily, is a gift to an employee, not a curse, because it allows the employee to grow. It is also an opportunity to deepen a relationship with an employee, not damage it, if you follow the 10 steps below (which assume you want to keep the employee on board).

If, after reading this post, you still feel weak-kneed at the thought of initiating a performance discussion, find a coach or mentor who can help you pinpoint and overcome whatever is holding you back.

Plan in advance, particularly when the stakes are high

  1. On a piece of paper, describe the behavior that concerns you, along with specific examples (dates, customer complaints you have received, etc.).
  2. Next, list the consequences of the behavior to the business, to you and to the group.
  3. Decide what action you/the business will need to take if the behavior happens again.
  4. Determine what resources, if any, you want to offer the employee to help him/her change the behavior. A class? A coach?

Pick time, place and tone with care

  1. The conversation needs to be private and without distractions. Set aside a block of time on your calendar and turn off your phone so you can devote your full attention to the discussion.
  2. Be frank but kind. For example, “I have received several pieces of feedback from customers that I want to bring to your attention because they involve you.” (Explain the details.)
  3. Avoid sugar coating. “As you can see, this feedback has serious implications for our company.” (Outline the negative impact in detail.)
  4. Draw the employee out. There may be information you need to weigh as you decide what to do about the situation. “Were you aware of the customers’ discomfort or is this feedback coming as a surprise?”
  5. Involve the employee in finding a solution. “I want to work with you to come up with a plan for addressing this issue.”
  6. Describe what happens next. “I will be adding a write-up of this conversation to your personnel file and…”

Some things to keep in mind

Some managers avoid confronting poor performance because they fear they will damage the relationship. Just the opposite is true. Most people want to do a good job, and sometimes they need frank feedback in order to get on a better career footing. Just as a basketball team wants its coach to provide guidance, your employees expect that of you.

Confront in a timely manner—no excuses like the 13 in my last post. Allowing poor performance to drag on for weeks or months can damage the morale of an entire team. The manager loses credibility and the team’s respect.

Keep an open mind. Awhile back, I managed an exceptionally gifted customer service representative. She exhibited grace under fire when working with upset customers. So, we were shocked when she began shouting at coworkers. I asked her into a conference room to discuss the yelling. Initially, she was silent. But then, she started to shed tears and finally admitted that she and her children were being physically abused at home and she didn’t know what to do about it. Knowing the root cause enabled us to help her—and to keep her as an employee.

Sometimes, poor behavior has a surprising root cause. Stress from a financial crisis, a child’s medical problem, caring for an aging parent or being in a wrong-fit role can lead people to act or communicate in unproductive ways.

Whatever the root problem, it’s your job to spell out expectations and monitor performance. If someone is not measuring up, act now.

If confronting poor performance is hard for you—or even if it’s not—check out the free assessment at You’ll gain some additional insights that will make performance discussions easier.

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About The Author

Articles By leigh-steere
Leigh Steere is a researcher, product developer, and adviser in the field of people management. She writes on fostering creativity, employee engagement, and high performance in the workplace. Visit for a free assessment of your management style and tips for managing more effectively.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Chuck Hebert  |  28 Mar 2011  |  Reply

Leigh – Really appreciate this post. Especially, like the planning and preparation points that you suggested. After being specific and discussing the impact, I also like the idea of asking the person, what they might be able to do to remedy the situation or ensure it does not happen again. It makes them take some ownership. Also, as soon as they start to talk about how to correct, then you’ve got there buy-in that there was an issue in the first place. All great points!

Julie  |  30 Mar 2011  |  Reply

This is exactly how I would approach poor performance. I am however, in a position where most managers and leaders are afraid to do this, and so I stand somewhat alone. Not in the way I feel about it because most agree with it, but I seem to be one of very few who will actually address it. I have seen managers who truly are concerned about being liked or not looking like they are demanding and so they let things slide. Which is why I have the reputation of not being “laid back”, and the others do have that reputation. What that translates to in employee language is I can get away with more and do less when manager A is here, but when manager B is here, I have to be on my best. The problem in this scenario is that I am not so interested in being liked per se, as much as I am concerned in doing a service to people by helping them and guiding them to optimum performance. I know it is a matter of time before they realize the value to the feedback they get,the prolonged realization is a result of a weakened leadership system, where not enough managers are on board yet. There is double duty here, getting management and team on board. That is a tall order.

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