How to have the Difficult Conversations to Manage Poor Performance

How to have the Difficult Conversations to Manage Poor Performance

With working from home and Hybrid Working being the 'new normal', managers are having to find a balance between empathising with their team members about the multitude of issues people are having to deal with outside work, 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 performance review/appraisal process due to a lack of time or inclination
  • Appraisals or performance reviews had not been conducted for a number of months, or even 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, either in person or virtually
  • Line managers were avoiding having the difficult conversations

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 and workloads being so high.  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 three 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 1:1s. 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 with cameras on 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 obtain 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