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Here is a fun fact that you’re probably already aware of: no one likes performance conversations. The comments might be easier to receive when they are praises and involve pay raises, but when it comes to discussing improvement – it is a whole different story.

These kinds of conversations can be challenging to navigate and even can turn cringey at times. Worry not, as this article will provide you with all the tips and tricks you need to properly carry out an effective performance conversation.

Why Performance Conversation Matters

If you are a manager or a team leader and find it difficult to conduct performance conversations, you are not alone. Some struggle with it so much that they delay it as much as possible, and even avoid it altogether.

Stop hiding from the problem and thinking it will resolve itself. Running away from the issue and leaving it unaddressed only leads to damaging consequences, such as:

  • The rest of the team suffers: everyone has to spend more time to make up for the poor performance; some members of the team are even becoming resentful.
  • The company’s overall goal cannot be reached.
  • The employee’s personal growth is stalled.
  • The business suffers from a bad reputation due to the poorly delivered results. In the long run, the company might even lose customers.
  • As poor performance is tolerated, other employees start believing that such a level of delivery is acceptable. Thus, disappointing performance spreads across the organization.

Once again, not addressing the problem has catastrophic effects. As a manager and team leader, it is your job to address and resolve the problem effectively.

Let’s stop procrastinating by first understanding the right time to conduct a performance conversation.

How do you know if an employee needs to have a performance conversation?

Remember, avoiding the performance conversation altogether does more harm than good, as everyone on your team will be suffering. In the most extreme cases, the employee is forced to face termination.

Therefore, what you should do is engage in a performance conversation, or more specifically, a conversation to discuss a performance improvement plan. When you spot the following signs, it probably is about time for the talk to happen.

Low productivity level

Some observable signs include:

  • The employee lacks the necessary aptitude for the position.
  • He or she is incapable of meeting the goals or deadlines.
  • He or she is always griping about the workload.

These might be some of the first signs you should be on the lookout for. It is true that every worker has their ups and downs; however, if their productivity shows no improvement, it might be time for a performance conversation.

Disengagement at work

Be on the lookout for the following signs:

  • There is an increase in leaves of absence and unplanned time off.
  • The general standard of the job has decreased.
  • The employee displays a sense of retreat by not actively participating in company activities.

There are numerous possible reasons behind such disengagement. Properly addressing the root problem makes sure your employee is happy and the working environment is healthy.

Other team members are negatively impacted

Signs to watch out for:

  • The employee is perpetually late for work.
  • He or she is looking for excuses to justify every action.
  • The employee frequently complains about the tasks assigned to him or her.

More often than not, the employee has no idea their performance has such a negative impact on the rest of the team. So, to keep your good employees from getting resentful, you need to find a way to address their performance as soon as possible.

Steps to Carry Out a Performance Conversation: It Does Not Have to Be Painful

It is okay if you find it difficult to carry out performance talks. Take a look at the following tips and tricks to ease the challenge and step into the performance conversation confidently, ready, and prepared.

Come prepared with the right mindset

It is crucial to keep in mind that this conversation is not aimed to make an employee feel scared, bad about themselves, and most importantly, devalued. Before stepping into the performance conversation, prepare the right assumption: the employee is capable of change. You are here to help them improve, not to reprimand them.

Give the employee a chance to talk about their own performance

One way to start off the conversation is by asking how they view their own performance. Ask them some questions to get a better idea of their perspective:

  • How do they feel they are doing with their goals?
  • Ask them to elaborate on the metrics they use to measure their own performance.
  • Ask for specific examples.

From there, you can determine what to say next in the conversation.

  • If you two see eye to eye – great, this is also the best-case scenario. You can move on to the next part of the conversation.
  • If you only agree with some parts of their statements, don’t be afraid to share examples regarding the areas they could do better.
  • If the employee believes they are doing well and meeting expectations, you need to speak up and let them know that you disagree. Again, your aim is not to reprimand or make them feel bad – you are here trying to help them improve. Always remember to provide specific examples alongside metrics. Perhaps reiterate the expectations of the position again.

All in all, by allowing the employee to talk about their own performance, you can better understand how they view the situation and how aware they are of the expectations of the job.

Remember to always provide specific metrics and examples. Don’t be vague. Give actionable feedback.

Identify the root of the problem

The next step is to figure out what causes the poor performance. Learning more about their situation allows you to come up with a suitable solution and accommodate their difficulties. For example, if your employee is facing family matters and they need to spend more time for their family – offer them a flexible working schedule. If they feel as if they have been overworking for a long time – help them organize and prioritize; if possible, offer to take off tasks and projects from their plates.

Helping your employee identify the root problem not only makes them feel appreciated, but also improves employee retention as your team earns the reputation of being caring and accommodating. Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to these problems.

Incorporate team feedback

Managers may present a comprehensive picture of employee performance by gathering and incorporating team input into performance talks, according to Brent Cassell, vice president of advisory at Gartner.

A more comprehensive picture might be presented when the teammates’ inputs are included. There are several ways to do this:

  • Fill up any holes in your analysis with examples from other people. You can even ask them to do a survey for better insight.
  • Talk about the employee’s contributions to the team’s performance and goals, as well as any actions or habits that might need to change if you want the team’s performance to improve as a whole.
  • Draw attention to any differences between your assessment and the employee’s self-evaluation, team input, or both.
  • One effective way to do this is to provide them with specific metrics. BravoGrowth is a great tool that you should consider.

Negotiate the non-negotiables

Be clear about your expectations. Make sure the employee knows what the standard looks like, when the deadlines are, and what he or she needs to do to meet such expectations. What happens if they miss a deadline? What if they need help? What if they struggle in a certain area and are in need of more training?

Set a timeline

You now need to establish deadlines by which the agreed-upon activities and improvement areas must be seen. The metrics should be traced and tracked carefully – and it is best done when you have suitable tools, like BravoInsights.

Several timelines might be involved. While some things can and may need to be improved right away, other areas may need more time. Some results only show up gradually. Do ask for the employee’s input about the timeline so it is more practical. However, do not compromise if they are being unreasonable.

Use suitable language

The language used during the conversation plays a major role. It helps set the tone for the meeting, and might even contribute to making the employee feel heard and understood, or otherwise, offended and attacked.

Below is a list of suggestions involving helpful, positive language:

  • We’d like to see you succeed.
  • How can we assist you in succeeding?
  • Have any comments or suggestions for us?
  • Does any of our actions make it difficult for you to execute your job?
  • We feel your performance has changed; how can we best support you?
  • Do you think your workplace is a good fit for your success?
  • Are there any tools or resources you feel could be useful?

The words “always” and “never” should be avoided. It might be risky to use absolutes in contentious talks because all it takes is one opposing example to invalidate your claim.

Using Performance Conversations as a Good Test of Your Leadership Skill

Now with all these tips and tricks in your pocket, it is time for you to put together the brief for the next performance conversation. Do keep in mind that what you are doing is for the greater good, and that you only want the best for your colleagues. Carrying out the performance conversation with an underperforming but essential employee is challenging. However, it is also a great example of your leadership in action. Ace it with our tips, and build your confidence in handling performance issues.

Hieu's avatar
Hieu Nguyen
Technical/Content Writer
Hieu is a content writer who loves to learn and share interesting ideas about human resources.
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