The Difficult Conversation about Performance

Imagine if you continually asked a direct report to make progress on an important goal with no results. Frustrating. What do you do?

Here is one approach:

  1. Check out understanding. “What was your understanding of my expectations regarding the xyz account?”  (Push for desired action, dates, and outcomes);
  2. What is getting in the way of you following through on these expectations? (Push for distraction, non-work issues, resources, ability, etc.); or (depending on prior conversations),
  3. What would you need to help you move forward on this goal?
  4. What is your commitment?  By when?  How will you let me know your progress?
  5. What might get in your way? How will you deal with that?

And another approach:

  1. Name what is working: Something that you appreciate about the way the employee works, achieves results, etc.
  2. Name your concern: “What concerns me is the continual lack of attention to important activities” or the like – using facts, numbers etc. In the past 3 meetings, I have asked you to….; And each time I check in with you on these requests, you indicate no action taken…”   (You can also add the impact of the lack of performance, e.g., this makes me wonder how seriously you take your job; Makes me wonder if you think these goals are not important; makes me wonder if you have too much on your plate; makes me wonder what is going on with you. etc.)  What is at stake here is…..
  3. If you were in my position, what would you do in a case like this? (Or you say what you want to do depending on prior conversations)
  4. Tell the person what you think about his/her suggestion.
  5. Come to a conclusion and summarize next steps. (document if necessary)

There are any number of reasons why a person procrastinates or simply refuses to comply with expectations. If you don’t discover what it is in each case, you run the risk of wasted resource, added expense, lost opportunity, etc.

Difficult conversations are called that for a reason: they are difficult. Once you deal with them, however, they get easier and easier and the results are worth the stepping out to handle them.

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