You’ve been given the task of sorting out an under-performing member of your team. (Oh, joy!) Partnerships being what they often are, this person has been allowed to under perform for years. However, you’ve been given the ‘delightful’ job of getting them to perform as required, or exit them.
Ouch! Has this scenario happened to you yet? If you are feeling smug that you haven’t been required to do this yet, your turn will come.
The first challenge you have with this scenario is to let the under performer know that there is a problem. Until you have done this step, you wouldn’t be passing go or collecting the proverbial £200. (HR will want evidence that you have tried to talk to them about their performance before even suggesting a compromise agreement rather than formal performance management.)
Do your preparation
Before you speak to the person, it is worth preparing for it. If you are the first person who has had the pleasure of speaking to them about their performance, don’t be too concerned by their reaction in this meeting. Emotions will run high, and it is worth you thinking about the worse case scenarios. It may help to anticipate what the person might say and have responses prepared or even scripted so as not to be caught off guard. Do have prepared answers to:
- why has no-one else talked to me about this before?
- my performance hasn’t been a problem for the x years I have worked at this firm, why now?
- are you having this conversation because you’ve been told to cut headcount?
As part of your preparation for this meeting, distill down why you are having the conversation to a maximum of three points. Then make sure you have cast-iron evidence and reasons for those three points.
The last part of your preparation is to make sure that you have booked a private room for this conversation. Do not be tempted to book a room with glass walls where everyone can see what’s going on. At this stage you don’t want to bring HR into the room – it’s too early for their involvement.
Stay calm and composed in the meeting
In the meeting, you want to make sure that you keep calm and composed. The other person may not remain composed – in fact it would be unusually if they didn’t display any sort of emotion. If necessary allow them to vent or cry. (Remember to have tissues in the room) When they have calmed down, then return back to the problems you were raising with them.
Even if you know you are right, make sure that you are not totally black and white in the type of words you use, and leave some room for shades of grey. I.e. avoid the use of the words, always and never – as very often it normally, rarely or usually rather than always or never. By leaving some shades of grey you can take some of the ‘heat’ out of the conversation and leave room for the other person to save some face.
Remember that the other person may well be struggling with the message that you are giving them. They, at this stage could be already thinking they are going to be sacked and their job is at risk. Therefore, take the time to empathise with how they are feeling, and show that you care.
Give yourself some time to calm down after the meeting
After the meeting, make sure you have some time in your diary to pause and reflect. These conversations are difficult for the both of you. You may find it useful to talk through how the conversation went with a trusted friend.
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How do you approach a conversation with an under-performer?
Written by Heather Townsend. I help professionals become the ‘Go To Expert’. I am the co-author of ‘How to make partner and still have a life‘ and the author of the award-winning and bestselling book on Networking, ‘The FT Guide To Business Networking‘.
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