How to have the Difficult Conversations to Manage Poor Performance

How to have the Difficult Conversations to Manage Poor Performance

During lockdown many organizations agreed that they would ‘go easy’ on performance managing staff who were remote working.  However, most managers didn’t envisage that working from home would become the norm for 2020 and most likely beyond, so they are now having to find a balance between empathising with their team members about the multitude of issues arising from the impact of Covid-19 and increasing engagement and productivity.  Managers often find that it is more difficult to address low performance for the following reasons:

  • They had not followed the standard appraisal process due to a lack of time or inclination
  • Appraisals or performance reviews had not been conducted for a number of months/years
  • There is no documentation regarding any ongoing underperformance
  • There is only ‘hearsay’ or someone’s word about alleged incidents of poor working relationships, interpersonal disputes or malpractice
  • No direct feedback has been given to the individual regarding under performance
  • No objectives or KPIs had been set
  • Very few face-to-face 1:1s had taken place
  • Line managers were avoiding having the difficult conversations

Jill Maidment is the Founder and Director of Natural Talent.  She is a highly respected, sought-after and effective International Executive Business Coach and Mentor, Career and Transition Coach, Resilience Coach and British Psychological Society qualified Assessor.  For 18 years Jill and our Associates have been providing high impact, solutions-focused Coaching and Training to leaders, managers and their teams in some of the world’s largest organizations, as well as working with professional firms and large public sector organizations and SMEs. 

Please contact Jill for a confidential initial chat to find out more about our services or to book a virtual Training session.

Although HR advise line managers that they need to conduct regular 1:1s and performance reviews with their team members in order for employees to feel motivated and understand where they need to improve, frequently this does not happen.  Nowadays it is also more of a challenge with so many team members working remotely.  This can result in employees bemoaning the fact that they only get the opportunity to discuss their roles and progression with their manager once a year, sometimes over an informal coffee. A large proportion of team members are reported to have missed their last 3 appraisals due to their line managers’ workload.

Giving regular positive and constructive feedback is such an important and straight forward way to create discretionary performance and motivate individuals. Any regular incidences of poor performance should be explored and documented if appropriate.  Here's an effective 10 Point Plan:

  1. Prepare: make sure you are up to date with all the relevant facts and scenarios ahead of any difficult 1:1. Take time to plan a difficult conversation and not just hold it ‘on the hoof.’
  2. Give the individual enough notice of the conversation so that they may ask questions in advance and also have time to prepare. If it’s a confidential, time-sensitive topic, then give as much information as you can up front.
  3. Ensure the conversation takes place face to face or via video conference in order to show the individual that you value their time and to enable you to understand their reaction.
  4. Consider the Personality type of the individual and think about how they are likely to react. Assess potential outcomes and scenarios and identify how best to deal with them.
  5. Explain how the situation has caused issues and how these are impacting the manager/team/project/organization, or the individual themselves.
  6. If the difficult conversation relates to a performance issue, use specific examples of situations and behaviours.
  7. Use ‘I’ and ‘we’ rather than the more accusatory ‘you’ to identify issues and deliver constructive feedback.
  8. Keep calm and present the facts of the situation in a clear, concise manner. Don’t raise your voice. Ask Open Questions to establish the individuals’ point of view or how they are feeling. However, avoid using the judgmental-sounding ‘Why?’ Instead ask: ‘What is driving that behaviour?’ Or ‘What is the reason behind x, y, z?’
  9. Look out for unhelpful passive-aggressive behaviours and negative body language, such as nodding of the head, rolling of the eyes, or even tutting. Ask relevant Open Questions to ascertain why the individual is having a certain reaction.
  10. If the individual becomes aggressive or angry, maintain an even tone and stick to the plan and your notes. If they become too emotional, stop the conversation and agree a time for a follow-up.  Email a summary of the conversation and key points you covered and obtian the agreement of the direct report.

Avoiding having the difficult conversations can prove very costly for projects, teams and the organization itself. If poor performance isn’t addressed in a timely manner, the individual can have a toxic effect on other team members; as a result productivity, engagement and even retention levels can drop and the overall company culture can suffer. Addressing issues as they arise, focusing on the facts and the impact issues are having on all key stakeholders, can prevent matters escalating in to interventions such as performance improvement plans, mediation and even resignations.  In these challenging times managing performance is a delicate task so do handle with care.

During Natural Talent’s Coaching and Training Modules managers learn and practise the most effective ways of having a difficult conversation using many tools and techniques to deliver constructive feedback, including the 10 Point Plan.

‘The is by far the most practical and useful training intervention the team has had.  They’ve now got the confidence to address issues as and when they arise, instead of allowing them to fester and escalate.  Highly valuable thank you.’  Director, Finance

Please read some of our Client Success Stories here and contact us to discuss your requirements or to book a Coaching or Training module via video call