While working for years at Macy’s as a senior executive, I had to have numerous conversations with underperforming team members. I’ll admit that I would shy away from having those difficult conversations in the beginning. I didn’t want that person to feel bad or take my feedback in the wrong way. But I knew that they were capable of doing so much more to hit their full potential. I also knew it was my responsibility to engage them and amplify their performance results. Then I experienced a mindset shift. I realized after one such conversation that the employee showed remarkable improvement. Because I had taken the time to highlight exactly what I needed and expected from them, they began to flourish. That was a game-changer for them, and for me.
It was in that moment that I realized that by NOT having that conversation I had actually been doing a disservice. Comfortable conversations where you walk on eggshells don’t elevate them. It may very well hold them back. Plus, it hurts the whole team and definitely reflects poorly on your leadership. Let me share four key insights about how to approach those kinds of conversations, and get a powerful ROI. Engaging in this way demonstrates that you have you team members’ best interests at heart. Trust me, they will thank you for it, because you’ll help advance their careers in practical, meaningful ways that other leaders are too timid to handle.
1) Have a Candid Discussion
When you see an employee struggling to make their performance results, that’s on you. it’s your responsibility to ensure that your team members rise to their full potential. One of the biggest leadership deficits I see in organizations is leaders who don’t address the elephant in the room. Then other people on the team grow to resent the leader’s lack of ability to address a situation that harms everyone. It’s a classic example of how failing to address a problem through well-developed communication infects teams and weakens organizational DNA.
2) Be Specific About What Needs to Change.
We all have blind spots, and need others to illuminate them for us, with clarity. What did you observe in their behavior that could be fine-tuned or changed for greater results? Generalizations like “have more executive presence” or “take the lead on this project” are too vague and can leave employees more confused. Here’s an example of how to be more specific and helpful: “I’d love to see more executive presence. Be more concise when you deliver a presentation, and do your homework so you are better prepared to answer challenging questions.” Now the individual knows exactly what areas to work on to develop their potential and be a better team asset.As a dynamic leader, it’s your responsibility to ensure that your team members rise to their full potential. Click To Tweet
3) Involve the Employee in the Process
We all commit to doing better once we understand what’s in it for us. Talk in terms of why it would benefit them to change their behavior. Emphasize such things as the career opportunities they’ll gain if they raise their overall performance rating, build better relationships, and exercise their full potential. Ask what they think can be done to help them succeed. Listen with a solution-oriented mindset. Do they reveal barriers to their own progress? I’ve found that sometimes there is an obstacle in their way that I can quickly remove. Maybe they’ll request extra training or mentorship, or greater responsibility. Then you can work with them to come up with an actionable success plan that holds them accountable while supporting their improvement.
4) Provide Support and Empowering Words
If we don’t believe in our people, they won’t believe in themselves. At the end of the conversation you need to frame up how much you believe that they are capable of doing this. Let them know you see greater potential, and you want to be their support partner to help them continue to grow within the organization. Let them know that you’ll be providing them with continual feedback along the way, and looking forward to watching their progress. They need to know that you will advocate to senior decision makers if they do their part, so they’ll get career rewards they are willing and motivated to earn.
The more often you address underperformance by having these developmental conversations, the easier they become. Instead of procrastinating, adopt a new approach. Have these difficult conversations sooner rather than later. That way you’ll deliver the best results you can for your organization, and life will be easier for everyone on the team.
Call to Action:
- Ask yourself, who are the underperformers on your team?
- Schedule a time to talk with them. Be specific about what behavior they need to improve upon.
- Actively listen to what they have to say, and learn from it.
- As you see improvement, let them know. Celebrate the success milestones with them.
Let me know if you have a difficult conversation this week, and how it went. I’d love to hear about your experience.
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