One common conversation I have with my clients is how to get the message through to a poor performer in the team. Whilst the intention is always there to have the difficult conversation, very often this intention is not acted on. After all, there are always more pressing client matters to attend to than having THAT difficult conversation.

Delaying the conversation only makes it much, much harder to get started

Underperformance in a team member never normally resolves itself (regardless of how much you are wishing it would!). In fact, as one of my clients found, not having the conversation can often turn a difficult conversation into an emotionally charged slanging match.

Agree on targets and expectations

In our experience most people employed in the professions are high achievers, who would be horrified to be labelled as a poor performer. Often the reason for poor performance is a mis-match of expectations. Until you have clearly articulated what you want them to achieve, it is difficult to have the conversation.

Look to preserve their dignity

If you suspect that the conversation is going to be difficult, then make sure you help your team member retain their dignity. This means no having the conversation in an open office, or in a glass-walled meeting room so that everyone else can see how the conversation plays out.

Nip the problem in the bud

It is so much easier to have the conversation about poor performance before it becomes a big festering problem.  Therefore, when you see or hear about some poor performance from one of your team, have the conversation with them sooner rather than later.

Add in contrasting statements

Conversations about poor performance can quickly escalate into an emotional mess. You aim is to keep the line of communication open. A good way of doing this is to use contrasting statements, such as:

“I want you to know that you are a valued member of the team”

“I’m having this conversation with you because I know you want to develop yourself and progress your career”

Ask them for some self-assessment

Very often your team member will know in their heart of hearts that something isn’t going well. It makes it much easier to have the conversation if you get them to talk about how they are not quite up to standard yet. A good way of beginning the conversation is to ask them how they felt the situation went, or how they feel they are progressing in a certain area.

Tell them what you want to happen as a result of the conversation

Most people don’t willingly under perform, and need some direction to help them change their behaviour. Therefore, tell them what you want them to change as a result of the conversation.

Ask yourself ‘what is the worst that can happen?’?

All to often we delay the difficult conversation because we fear their reaction to the conversation. A good way to counteract this fear is to ask yourself literally, ‘what is the worst that can happen?’. This is normally, they either *get* it and start performing, or you start to performance manage them out of the firm.

What are your personal tips for having a difficult conversation with a poor performer?