How to have underperformance conversations

You’ve got an employee who’s just not cutting it. You’re not sure how to approach their underperformance.

Perhaps they’re constantly showing up late and letting customers down, or they fail to follow your systems, present slopping work and make mistakes. Whatever the issue, as a business owner, to jump off the handle and yell and scream is not going to solve the issue. Nor is ignoring it. This will only seem as though you support their antics. Nor is firing them on the spot. That does nothing for your growth plan, or help when you’re about to take that two-week holiday you’ve planned for months.

Let’s face it, no one likes having difficult conversations. Unfortunately, being a business owner, it comes with the territory. What we know is that when approached constructively, difficult conversations can result in massive employee performance improvements and often an increased respect for you as a boss because of the way you approached it.

Staying calm and taking control will not only see you shine as a true leader, but will highlight to all the team that you won’t accept substandard behaviour. They have to step up. Exactly how do you get this situation back on track?

Here’s our 8 steps on how you can have a difficult but constructive underperformance conversation…

STEP 1: Identify the exact underperformance issue

Before approaching the employee you must clarify exactly what their performance issues are. Underperformance can take two forms…

1) Output

For example:
Your employee makes mistakes, their work is sloppy or they aren’t following your systems.

2) Behavioural

For example:
Your employee’s attitude sucks, they are always late or you’ve noticed them bullying other employees.

STEP 2: Analyse the performance issue

Analyse the performance issue:

  • What are the repercussions of this issue on your business?
  • How long has this issue been happening?
  • What is the severity of the issue?
  • To what degree is the employee underperforming? (A lot or a little below expectation?)

STEP 3: Arrange a meeting

Arrange to meet with your employee to discuss the issue. Be clear about the reason for the meeting in order to set your employees expectations.

  • To have an effective conversation, you must:
  • Ensure you’re away from other employees and distractions
  • Not in a location where the employee may feel vulnerable
  • Avoid making a big deal about the meeting in front of other employees
  • Allow the employee to bring a “support” person along if they wish.

STEP 4: The meeting

On commencing your meeting reassure your employee that the meetings purpose is to come up with a solution, not to tell them off.

You need to clearly explain to your employee:

  • The issue
  • Why it is an issue
  • How this issue effects the business or other employees
  • Why this is a problem

Do so whilst remaining relaxed and calm. Whilst you talk, ensure that your employee understands what you are saying.

Next, invite the employee to explain their point of view or possible root causes of the issue.

Perhaps there are family or health issues leading to absenteeism or lateness (assume nothing, or you will look like a fool if the issue is serious!).

Even simpler, perhaps there has been an issue with their training or a misunderstanding throughout the training process.

Understanding the root cause (with the hope that your employee is willing to share it) with enable you to create an effective solution.

STEP 5: Mutually agreed solution

The key to an effective solution to underperformance is to develop a solution that is agreed upon by the employee.

A temporary explanation for their underperformance can be resolved with:

  • Time
  • Mentoring coaching
  • Supportive supervisor

Underperformance due to a negative influence of colleagues or substance abuse can be assisted with:

Disciplinary action

  • Suggest external professional help
  • Mentoring coaching
  • Supportive supervisor

Ineffective skills

  • Training
  • Reassign to other responsibilities in the business
  • Mentoring coaching
  • Supportive supervisor

Ineffective “soft skills” (e.g. time or stress management)

  • Help facilitate appropriate education of management of such issues
  • Mentoring coaching
  • Supportive supervisor

STEP 6: Implementation plan

Now that you’ve come to a mutually agreed solution, you need to (together!) develop an implementation plan. In this plan…

  • State the solution
  • When the solution will occur
  • Expected performance results of the solution
  • When the performance issue is expected to be solved (set a review date)

STEP 7: Monitor performance

Wait, it’s important to give your employee SPACE to change.

STEP 8: Re-meet

Hopefully this second meeting (perhaps in 2weeks time) will be far less difficult. The employee has significantly improved and you are merely meeting to acknowledge that you’ve noticed their improvements (this is VERY important).

If the employee hasn’t improved then you need to decide if their current level of performance is adequate to keep them as an employee.

At the end of the day, it’s your job as a business owner is to be a leader; and with this title you have a bigger responsibility; ‘To simply do YOUR BEST to bring THE BEST out of your employees’.

What’s next?

  1. Join our Kick-Ass Tradies Facebook Group, for access to trade business specific conversations, tips and resources, plus a like-minded community of tradies.
  2. Book a 15-minute Game Plan Call with Andy, owner of Dr. DRiP plumbing and co-founder of Lifestyle Tradie, to clarify your priorities and get clear action steps.