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Part Three  

By now, several themes should be apparent in the handling of performance conversations (if you haven’t read part one or part two, make sure to catch up). These include the importance of staying calm, managing your own emotional state and being aware that the performance conversation itself is merely one part of a dynamic working relationship between the manager and the individuals within their team.  

Conversation Seven – The Employee who is Improving But Still Not At the Required Level

 This conversation is difficult as the employee is genuinely and consistently making an effort to improve. Yet, you have realised that they lack the qualities or skills to deliver at the level or standard required. When the employee has had development opportunities, coaching and training there comes a point where you as a manager need to reflect on how much is too much. At what point do you stop the development to bring a person up to the required standard?   Developing staff is integral to a high performing team – but you need people to be able to perform the core functions of their role. If that is not happening then it lets the whole team down.

The conversation might start with an acknowledgement of the effort being made and a reminder about the standards that need to be met. Aim to engage the employee in an assessment of how they are performing in comparison to what is required. Be prepared to discuss alternatives – is there another role that they may be more suited to? This conversation can easily lead to a performance discipline process and may result in the ultimate termination of employment for the employee. Get HR advice before you take that first step.  

Conversation Eight – the Ticking Time Bomb

A time bomb could be a person who is giving off all the signs of an imminent emotional outburst – whether that is tears or anger and aggression. It can also be a person who has been underperforming on a regular and consistent basis in several small areas. Whatever the reason for the scenario, it is challenging because it worries you. You are concerned about what might happen and are second guessing everything you plan and wondering how each statement will be received.   The tip here is to not get too emotionally invested in it. If you cannot separate yourself from it, ask yourself if someone else can have the discussion instead of you. That may not be possible, and so you may open the conversation by saying “Its highly likely that we are both wondering just how this conversation is going to go today. I’d like it to be….(insert your thoughts).”

You should state the manner in which you’d like to meet to proceed - whether it be about working out a way together to address an issue, or about sharing views on performance. Sometimes being transparent about what your intent is will be enough to soothe the time bomb.   If however the time bomb is about small unresolved performance gaps, then you need to be factual and evidence-based in terms of advising the employee that a number of small issues have been going on for some time and that whilst individually they may be viewed as minor or inconsequential, that “when they are considered collectively there is a problem that we need to talk about”.


Conversation Nine – the Over Analyser Who Wants to Talk It Out

This is the one that most leaders dread because a planned one-hour meeting can drag out to three hours - and that’s the last thing you need at performance review time. So, how do you handle it? Start the meeting and set out the guidelines and agenda, is very clear that there is a maximum of one hour allocated to the meeting. Have a plan for how to pick up unresolved additional matters. Be prepared to say to the employee that talking more about a certain point will not change anything and so we need to move on from that point.  

This discussion can be very draining as you need to be alert at all times, as well as be aware that this person wants to go into the minor details. Be a leader and be firm with this conversation. Find the balance between being on time and being abrupt.   That concludes the third and final instalment which has covered 9 of the most commonly challenging conversations. It is by no means an exhaustive list and conversations can be difficult for a wide range of reasons. Many of the clients I have trained and coached have commented on how useful they find the tools and principles we discuss, as well as how those principles can be applied to other different situations. Enjoy putting some of these tips to use. I’d love to hear from you with any success stories in the comments.

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