I get phone calls all the time from amazingly powerful, intelligent, and talented senior executives who can manage multi-million dollar businesses and dozens of people. But when they have to do a relatively simple face-to-face with a valued employee about a touchy performance issue they break into a cold sweat and turn to me in desperation for help and advice.
Those talks can be a real challenge, for sure. But here are some tips to help make that kind of conversation easier and more productive.
- Have a clear, comprehensive performance contract in place with each employee. They need to know what you expect of them in ways that are measurable. That alleviates vagueness, misunderstanding, and misinterpretation of their performance expectations.
- Give positive and constructive feedback first. Otherwise people tend to feel threatened and shut down before the dialog begins. You want them to be open, receptive, and all-ears so that your words will actually inspire meaningful improvements.
- Remember the goal. Don’t let the discussion deteriorate into an argument. Stay on point, focused on the future and on practical ways that you can improve the employee’s performance for the benefit of the entire organization.
- Be prepared to share specific examples of poor performance. Otherwise, without solid evidence, your employee may just say that your information is wrong and that will undermine the whole premise of your meeting.
- Take dated and detailed notes. After you talk, give a copy of the meeting summary to the employee and get them to sign off on any agreements you made together. That prevents misunderstandings and gives both of you objective performance benchmarks and goals.
Don’t hesitate to accept advice from the HR department. Turn to them when you feel out of your depth, or when you find that company guidelines are vague, employee manuals and conduct codes are outdated or inadequate, or when you need help analyzing an employee’s performance metrics.
Predictable Promotion Exercise:
Choose an underperforming employee – either one you are working with now or one you encountered in the past. Write a paragraph that summarizes the essence of the problem you had with them – or that lists the specific ways that they were not performing up to par.
Now write another paragraph that shows how their lack of productivity impacted others. Try to connect the dots in such a way that it illustrates that everyone is a team player, and when they fall short it affects the whole organizational community. Last but not least, write a short script that you could use to highlight this interconnected relationship when you talk to the underperformer.
Giving an individual a much larger and broader view of themselves – and how important their role is within the greater corporate hierarchy – provides them with a perspective that often motivates them in a more personal way. It can make them feel included and valued, and helps them understand that if they do improve their performance their efforts will be appreciated not just by you but by everyone.
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Sarah Hathorn is a leadership development mentor, executive presence coach, image and branding consultant, public speaker & author. She is the founding CEO of her own successful company, Illustra Consulting, and the creator of the proprietary Predictable Promotion System™.
Blog, Ezine & Website: www.illustraconsulting.com
Copyright © 2012, Sarah Hathorn, AICI CIP, CPBS