Donna's blog on coaching, leadership, and life

Top Ten Guidelines for Addressing Performance

For managers and leaders, addressing low or poor performance is seldom easy or comfortable. When preparing your next difficult performance conversation, these guidelines may help:

1. Genuinely seek to serve the employee. As you’re preparing—even in the midst of your possible frustrations—consider the value of the performance conversation to the employee. Ask yourself: What’s in it for him or her?

2. Provide specific examples that are related to an observable behavior and not a perceived attitude or personality. Offer a description of what you observed about his/her performance, behaviors, or outcomes, and talk about their impact on business.

3. Be conscious of your voice and body language to reflect a calm and non-intimidating approach.

4. Avoid labels, judgments, and assumptions that may damage self-esteem.

5. Be open to discussion (and let them know that you are) should he/she not agree with your assessment of their performance.

6. If the individual becomes emotional or seems to need some time, offer him/her time (24 hours) to “think it through” before further discussion, if they choose.

7. Anticipate the employee’s concerns and objections and be prepared to respond (versus react) by calmly reiterating the business impact of the performance you’re addressing.

8. Ask for his/her recommendation(s) for a plan of action (shared responsibility) — establish non-arguable outcomes (i.e., specific action steps and (interim) target dates for implementation.)

9. Offer your support. Ask how you can most effectively help.

10. Schedule a follow-up meeting (before leaving this meeting) to evaluate progress.

I hope you find these guidelines validating and/or helpful. In your own experience, when you’re preparing or facilitating difficult performance conversations, what’s worked well for you?


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