Crucial Conversations with Employees

What to Do When that Employee isn’t Working Out

You have someone working for you and it’s not going well.

He isn’t doing his job.

She is making a lot of mistakes.

Maybe they aren’t even showing up.

It could be a full-time employee, a part time employee or someone who you contract with occasionally.  Maybe it’s not even someone working in your business. It could be your baby-sitter or your cleaning service.  It doesn’t really matter who they are or what their job entails.  The important thing is that you thought you were making your life easier by hiring them and instead it’s worse.  You are not getting the service that you expected.  And on top of that, you are now spending countless hours frustrated with their performance.  What do you do? 

Here’s what most people do:  hint and hope.  Hint around, drop a few comments, send a few reminder emails and hope they will figure it out.  In fact, if you’re honest you expect that they should already know what is wrong without you even telling them.  After all, doesn’t everyone know that a good employee _____________ (you fill in the blank—shows up on time, double checks their work, meets deadlines, makes x number of contacts a day, etc).  This is a common problem in any relationship where one person expects the other to be a mind reader and know exactly what is wanted and expected without ever actually giving them a blueprint of the expectation and then following up to make sure they get it.  I know you thought that so much attention to detail was unnecessary because it is so obvious what is needed.  But obviously it is not obvious to them… or they would be doing it.  

So how long do you allow this to continue?  Some will continue hinting and hoping indefinitely to avoid having that crucial conversation.  You know what I mean– that conversation where you actually give honest feedback instead hinting and hoping. When you delay having that conversation you aren’t doing anyone any favors, not the employee, not the team that they are a part of and certainly not yourself.  

What should you do instead?  Like most things in business, you need a plan.

How to Have a Crucial Conversation with an Employee

  1. Set up a meeting specifically to talk about the situation. Plan it ahead and give prior notice. This isn’t a “Hey let’s have a chat right now,” kind of a meeting. Let the employee know that you will be reviewing their performance. Do this early on in the work relationship, not at some late date where you are fed up and about to explode.  In fact, the best plan is to set up performance mini-meetings at regular intervals when you hire someone.  Much as we would like for others to be mind-readers and know that we think they are doing well or poorly, this is not the case. 
  2. Prior to the meeting take the time to explore your feelings with someone other than the employee. Then decide how you want to feel going into the meeting and model that.  Stay in control and don’t allow your feelings to run the meeting.
  3. Determine your goal for the meeting. Is it time for the employee to go?  Could you provide more support and feedback so they could improve?  Do they have the skills, character or attitude that you need for the job?  Would they be a better fit somewhere else?
  4. Acknowledge your part in the poor performance. What could you have done differently?  Made the job clearer?  Given feedback sooner?  Provided more training? Recognized that their personality style wasn’t a good fit for the job you needed done? What can you do to make the situation better?
  5. Provide positive feedback as well as identify the problem. Be realistic.  This doesn’t mean acting as if things are going well when they aren’t.  It does mean letting them know that you recognize the skills or strengths that they have. 
  6. Present the problem in an objective way. Better to say, “I was checking over the project you are working on and you aren’t meeting the deadlines. When the deadlines aren’t met, I get complaints from the customer.”  Than to say, “What is wrong with you that you can’t get the job done on time?  The last person doing your job didn’t have a problem with it.”
  7. Give the employee an opportunity to explain what they see as being the problem. Identify what they need to do the job properly. Do you need to provide more training?  Do you need to assign someone else to help?  Do you need to clarify the job?
  8. Determine a time line going forward. If your decision is to fire the employee then give them a time frame.  If the decision is to provide support or training, identify a time frame when you will review the performance and meet again to discuss how the plan is working. Determine how both you and the employee will be accountable for decision made.
  9. Follow up and follow through.  Put the next meeting on your calendar. Post reminders. Document decisions and goals that have been set. Create the agenda for the follow up meeting ahead of time so you both know what to expect. 

Crucial conversations that identify problems and correct them are uncomfortable.  They challenge us to move outside of our typical reactionary feelings and analyze the situation.  Plan for the best case scenario but prepare for the difficulties involved in expressing your concerns and feelings. To be the leader that you were meant to be, you must create a dialogue that benefits you, the employee and ultimately the success of your business.  

Looking for a way to train your staff in crucial conversations?  Let’s talk:

Set up a training clarity call to see if we’d be a good fit:  Training Clarity Call

D’Anna Liber- Gwinnett Department of Family and Children Services

Lynne Watts brings excitement and energy into the room as a motivational and engaging speaker. She has a relevant perspective to familiar topics. Her engagement with participants is sincere and authentic and, along with her friendly, relaxed manner enables participants to listen and learn easily. Her life experiences are meaningful to the audience and provide a candid look into self for how to make better self-choices and how to be a better team in the workplace.





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