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Opinion: How to address staff performance thoughtfully, effectively

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Correcting employees is a necessary part of managing people. It allows an employee to improve performance and further develop their skills.

The benefits of correcting an employee far outweigh the drawbacks. But when managers ignore or delay addressing an employee’s performance issue, it can make matters worse.

Whether it’s demonstrated in the form of an attitude problem or a lack of results, poor performance can stir up resentment among your best employees, create friction in the customer’s experience and cause a financial burden for the organization.

With the speed of change today and the demands to have ample employee talent, every manager and supervisor must handle difficult employee performance issues effectively and quickly.

Here are 10 ways to conduct uncomfortable performance discussions with your employee.

1. Speak with your employee regularly. Make regular, positive investments in relationship building. Your efforts will pay off if discussions ever need to get uncomfortably frank, especially when you’re dealing with a touchy individual.

2. Address performance issues early; don’t let them worsen. Bring problems to the attention of the employee when they occur. Helping people find ways to correct performance before it affects them personally will significantly contribute to their appraisal or salary review.

3. Support your observations. It’s wise to support good or bad behavior with sufficient facts and examples. Most people want to please their manager and are willing to improve, but they need to understand what’s expected and make the necessary change. The same thing goes for good performance; people want to know what was pleasing to repeat the behavior.

4. Avoid making assumptive statements. Using phrases such as “you never” or “you always” are impossible to substantiate, and they can trigger adverse employee reactions and resentment.

5. Be future tense. Focus your discussions 30% on the problem and 70% on the solution. You will gain more ground with the employee if you focus on avoiding future mistakes and refrain from unproductive criticism. Also, take the time to explore whether the error was not the employee’s fault, but rather due to poor communications, a lack of resources or a flawed organizational process.

6. Regularly emphasize the importance of each employee’s role. People want to know that the work they do has significance to the organization. Link the employee’s position with its impact on the mission, values or goals, and watch how it builds taking individual ownership for results.

7. Focus proper attention on the consequences of not performing. Strike a balance between helping your associate achieve their work objectives while also remaining firm about the performance standards or outcomes expected. The right balance will produce consistent employee performance.

8. Encourage any questions or concerns. Convey a sense that you’re in this with them, and that their problems or concerns are also yours. Work on solving any issues you can and removing any obstacles for them to achieve higher performance.

9. Ask the employee for their thoughts and ideas. Many employees think about how to improve work performance without any prodding from management. You’d be wise to tap into their feedback by asking for ways they believe the organization, their department, themselves and you could improve to make work go more smoothly and generate better results.

10. Be patient. People especially need for managers to be empathetic and caring right now. Most employees also need a little time and space to absorb constructive feedback and process their emotions. When it’s time, follow up and craft a plan together that prioritizes achieving high performance.

Communicate your expectations. Provide positive and constructive feedback within the framework of your performance standards or values. When you need to have a difficult conversation about performance, do it caringly and effectively.

Consultant, professional speaker and author 
Mark Holmes is president of Consultant Board Inc. 
and He can be reached at


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