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 www.ManagingPeopleBetter.com. You’ll gain some additional insights that will make performance discussions easier.

Leigh Steere
Co-founder, Managing People Better, LLC—a management research firm/think tank. Professional kettle-stirrer. Writer. Curriculum developer. Connect with Leigh on her LeadChange profile, website, or Twitter and check out the Managing People Better assessment where you can get some feedback on your management style and help with a research project.
Leigh Steere