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Difficult Conversations - dealing with underperforming

Updated: Nov 4, 2022

Q: A long time employee in a senior position has been underperforming for the past year. They have been spoken to about it and nothing has changed. It is to the point where they either need to shape up or ship out. We would ideally like to see things work. How do I have that conversation so they step up and do their job?

A: The ability to have difficult conversations is a skill most leaders find challenging to master. Let’s be honest, nobody likes to have these kinds of conversations. Avoiding them doesn’t fix the problem and sends the message that underperforming is ok.

Here are a few tips on having difficult conversations:

Your concern about having this conversation shows you care about their success. This is a great place to start; it sets a positive intention for the meeting.

Write down the points you would like to make prior to the meeting. Be specific about your concerns, focus on the issues not the person.

Start on a positive note, bring examples of times when they have been successful, remind them that you know they are capable of doing these things.

Watch your tone of voice; ensure your tone isn’t accusatory. Avoid blaming or negative statements. Be curious, listen, keep your ego and strong emotions out of the conversation. Avoid the word “you”, use “we”.

Reach agreement about what they will do to change their behavior. Set a time frame to review their progress.

Practice this conversation with someone prior to the actual meeting, ask for feedback on how the message came across. This will build your comfort level and as a result make it more comfortable for the person receiving the feedback. Having these difficult conversations in the right way can be the catalyst for positive change for both your employee and your organization.

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