HomeTalent ManagementThe leader’s guide to addressing underperformance

The leader's guide to addressing underperformance

  • 3 Min Read

Difficult conversations about underperformance can be stressful, but approaching them as opportunities for growth leads to better outcomes.

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The challenge of difficult conversations

There’s no denying it – engaging in conversations about underperformance can be daunting for many managers. The stakes feel high, as these discussions can significantly impact an employee’s compensation, career trajectory, and even their job security.

It’s natural to feel apprehensive about navigating these waters, especially if you’re worried about a negative emotional reaction or a potential decrease in team morale. However, the crucial thing to remember is that these conversations shouldn’t be seen as fault-finding missions. Instead, they should be viewed as opportunities for genuine development and growth.

To achieve this, you need to be prepared, empathetic, and committed to working collaboratively with your team member to find solutions. Take the time to understand their values and aspirations. The feedback you provide should be tailored to meet the company’s expectations and align with the employee’s personal and professional goals.

Setting the stage for collaborative improvement

To effectively address underperformance, it’s essential to establish a collaborative environment. This starts with aligning on expectations. What does success look like for this specific role? How will we measure progress? Who will be involved in supporting the employee’s improvement journey? You foster a sense of teamwork and ensure the employee feels like an integral part of the solution by establishing a shared understanding of these elements.

Inviting the employee to reflect on their performance is a critical step. Questions like, “Did you feel you were able to accomplish all your goals?” or “What areas do you think you could have approached differently?” can initiate a constructive dialogue.

Understanding their values is also crucial, as it directly influences their engagement and commitment. By grounding the conversation in the employee’s aspirations, you create a more meaningful and motivating experience. This approach not only sets the tone for improvement but also strengthens the manager-employee relationship, building a foundation for sustained performance enhancement.

Delivering constructive feedback

Constructive feedback is the backbone of any performance improvement plan. Here’s the key: the feedback you deliver needs to be clear and specific. Don’t leave the employee guessing about where their work falls short. Use concrete examples to illustrate the areas where their performance hasn’t met expectations. Ambiguity serves no purpose; it’s the precise, actionable insights that empower employees to make necessary changes.

In some cases, involving various stakeholders and cross-functional team members can provide a broader perspective, reinforcing the objectivity of the feedback. This collective approach demonstrates a commitment to fairness but also shifts the focus from blame to collaborative problem-solving.

Remember, the goal is to understand, not judge. Acknowledge the emotional aspect of these conversations and create a space for employees to share their perspectives. A culture of openness and mutual respect is essential for any constructive dialogue.

Creating an actionable path forward

After delivering feedback, it’s essential to provide a clear roadmap for improvement. This involves reframing the conversation to focus on future possibilities. Instead of dwelling on missed targets, ask “What if?” to encourage employees to envision achieving a different outcome.

As a manager, you can facilitate this process by setting clear, forward-looking goals that align with the organization’s objectives. This approach helps remove the stigma of criticism, placing the employee in a proactive mindset. It’s about empowering them to take ownership of their improvement journey. Make sure they understand the standards expected of them and the resources available to support their development and success within the company.

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