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Blog February 24, 2020

How to fix a performance issue

The latest monthly reports are in.

While most look great, you notice that a certain team member has failed to meet his or her numbers — again.

It’s time for a chat.

Addressing performance issues isn’t the most pleasant part of being a manager. It may even be tempting to sweep it under the rug and avoid it altogether.

Doing so only serves to allow such problems to fester and exacerbate. As uncomfortable as it is, it’s imperative to nip these performance problems in the bud sooner rather than later to prevent negative consequences for your organisation.

How can you prepare for an effective meeting to help regain their productivity and performance in a way that’s respectful and encouraging?

With some thoughtful preparation, you can create an environment of support and confidence. In this article, we’ll present you with a 10-step approach to fixing a performance problem.

The 10-step approach to fixing a performance problem

1. Set a meeting

Send out an official invitation for a face-to-face meeting. This transmits the importance of the meeting.

In your invitation, clearly establish the agenda. Encourage them to come with a self-assessment of their performance, which you will bring up during the chat.

Send out the invitation at least three days in advance to give them sufficient time to prepare.

Tip: Consider giving them a heads up in person as an invitation for a meeting on an issue as important as their performance may be out of the blue and catch them off guard.

2. Start positive

Begin the conversation by providing positive feedback to create a more comfortable and relaxed setting.

Motivate with encouraging words and avoid any mention of underperformance at this stage.

Starting the chat with accusations only paves the way for an unpleasant confrontation that benefits no one and is counterproductive.

Tip: Try to provide as much positive feedback as possible. This helps to avoid an imbalance in positive feedback and critical feedback, the latter of which you’ll get to later.

3. Ask for a self-assessment

Ask if they agree with your evaluation and encourage them to rate their own performance.

Chances are, they’ll agree with your positive feedback during this self-assessment. This helps them see things more objectively, which is a step towards acknowledging underperformance.

Above all, this invites them to raise any difficulties they may be having themselves, instead of you bringing it up.

“What makes these conversations tough is the natural tendency of people to defend themselves as soon as they feel attacked.That’s the utmost thing to stay away from. Highlight the positive aspects of their work and allow them to reflect on them so they see that they are being valued.”

Thijs Westerkamp, Senior Consultant, Krauthammer Netherlands

4. Address performance issue

If they’ve acknowledged their underperformance, encourage them to shed light on its causes.

If they haven’t, you will need to set the stage. Start by mentioning a few observations and then let them tell their side of the story.

Tip: Let them do most of the talking at this stage and refrain from presenting your own assumptions. It helps with their own reflection, which encourages them to articulate better and gives you a better idea of their inner thoughts.

5. Keep it professional

Keep the conversation professional and voice any disappointment objectively. You’re pinpointing the reason for their underperformance, not identify character flaws and place blame.

The subject of the conversation should be their performance and behaviour, not them. Otherwise, they could see this as a personal attack.

Tip: Maintain objectivity and do not stray into personal territory. If personal issues come up as a reason for their underperformance, gently prod to see if they want to reveal more.

6. Focus on facts

When addressing their underperformance, articulate yourself clearly with concrete examples and proof based on observations and facts.

Come prepared with notes or reports that demonstrate their underperformance. If the issue is goals-related, have the figures ready. If the employee is not complying with company policy, have the policy on hand.

7. Paint the larger picture

Employees may not always realise how their performance can negatively impact their team or the organisation. It’s important for you to draw a connection between their performance and its effect on the team and company.

Provide a clear view of the organisation’s values, rules, and principles, and reiterate what is expected of them.

Establish your reasons for providing a negative review, explain why such performance cannot be accepted and why it needs to be fixed.

8. Respond to their reasons

Resistance in such conversations is common. Here are some possible scenarios and how to tackle them.

They disagree with your views
What to do: Take a step back while standing firm on your view. Ask them to think it over and schedule a follow-up meeting in a few days. They may just need some reflection and thinking time to get on the same page.

They blow off your observations with excuses
What to do: Get them to identify the external factors that are keeping them from performing and ask if they’ll be able to perform better with these factors out of the way.

They defend their performance with peer-comparison
What to do: If they justify their performance by comparing themselves with others and insist they’re not doing that badly, ask them to obtain quality feedback from internal/external clients and discuss them in the next session.

9. Establish next steps

Once they acknowledge they’ve been underperforming and agree with your assessment, establish a plan for change. Ask them to identify areas where there’s room for improvement and how they aim to achieve that.

Highlight that the purpose of the meeting is to find a solution to any problems. It’s your responsibility as a manager to make sure goals are being met, so ask them how you can help and what they expect from you to help them perform better and get them back on track.

Set concrete goals and expectations in a way that’s easily understood. Your final agreement should be precise and leave no room for misinterpretation.

Tip: Don’t be disappointed if the solutions they suggest aren’t precise enough as they may need more time to reflect. Ask questions to prompt more concrete answers.

10. Chart their progress

Fixing performance problems isn’t a one-off event. It’s a festering symptom of a deeper problem that needs to be nursed constantly.

One meeting may not be sufficient to diagnose the issue, let alone remedy it, so schedule a follow-up meeting to monitor progress. This also gives them time to reflect on the conversation and return the next session with more insight. This is all part of the performance recovery process.

Over the course of this process, make it a point to constantly encourage them, acknowledge any improvement, and congratulate them when progress is made.

“Set clear and concrete goals and expectations for the future and a clear date by which they need to be achieved. Agree on regular meetings so that you can catch possible problems early on and offer support.”

Coralie Krumpholtz, Senior Consultant, Krauthammer Germany

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