Here’s a common situation. A manager has an employee who isn’t contributing their fair share. The manager knows they need to address it because the rest of the team can tell that this employee is a poor performer. And, if the manager doesn’t do something, their credibility will suffer. But the manager doesn’t know what to say.

We’re not talking about progressive discipline and written warnings. These conversations happen all the time. Managers need to speak with employees about their performance. The purpose of conversations like this isn’t to punish the employee. It’s to change their performance.

That’s why it’s important for managers not to delay the conversation. The more time passes, the harder the conversation. Because the employee will think their behavior is acceptable since no one addressed it. Here’s an outline that managers can use to plan out the conversation they want to have with the employee. (Feel free to share and bookmark it for future reference.)

  1. Let the employee know your concern. Don’t minimize the importance of this conversation by spending a lot of time talking about the latest episode of The Voice and a little on the topic of performance. This is an important matter and should be handled that way.
  2. Share what you have observed. Offer specifics about actual behaviors you’ve witnessed. If someone else witnessed the behaviors, try to have that person there. Employees will not like the line “someone told me you did this…” If you’re trying to correct behavior, be able to specifically discuss behavior.
  3. Explain how their behavior impacts the organization and the team. Employees might not realize how their behavior negatively impacts others. It’s important to draw a connection. If negative impact can’t be explained, then an employee will question why they need to change.
  4. Tell them the expected behavior. It’s possible an employee will not know what they should be doing. Come to the discussion prepared to explain what the acceptable standard is and how an employee can achieve the satisfactory performance.
  5. Solicit solutions from the employee on how to fix the situation. This is so important! Let the employee tell you what they’re going to do to fix the situation. It creates buy-in. If you tell an employee what to do, they haven’t bought into it. Give the employee time to think about possible solutions.
  6. Convey the consequences. Let the employee know what will happen if the situation is not resolved. You’ll notice at this point there hasn’t been one word about disciplinary action. Sometimes the consequence is that an employee will not be eligible for a transfer. Or they will not be able to participate in flex time. Maybe the next step is discipline. Regardless, make sure the employee is aware of what happens if the matter isn’t resolved.
  7. Agree upon a follow-up date. ‘No news is good news’ is not a management philosophy. After the employee agrees to work toward improving their performance, set a follow-up date to discuss progress.
  8. Express your confidence. Since the goal of this conversation is to improve performance, don’t be hesitant to tell an employee you’re confident they can correct the situation. And that they can rely on you for support.

No one enjoys conducting a negative performance conversation. The key is to always remember the purpose – it’s to help an employee change their behavior. If the conversation stays focused on helping the employee be successful, then hopefully it never escalates to disciplinary action.

Performance conversations can be a bit scary – both for the person giving them and the person receiving the feedback. Take time to plan out your thoughts. Think of the different responses that could arise and how you would answer them. Preparation will make the conversation easier.