Sometimes, even your best employees can fall into a rut or make poor decisions.

Santo Cannone smartPRENEUR Blog Series

It’s time to have one of those discussions with a team member.  

Your expectations are not being met and you can’t let the situation fester. Sometimes, even your best employees can fall into a rut or make poor decisions.

How do you get your point across?
Your discussion should have three elements:

  • Direct
  • Specific
  • Non-punishing

Let’s take them in order.  Sometimes, we try to offset bad news with a soft opening (something like “Love your new car!” or “Did you see that game yesterday?”).  Bad idea.  You want to set the tone that this is a serious matter.  As soon as you settle in, go straight to it: “Joe, we need to talk about the quality of your work” or “Chris, your relationship with your teammates has to improve.”

Now that we have the team member’s attention, we need to get specific. Generalities like “Your work is poor” or “You fight with everyone” don’t give a team member who wants to perform better a learning opportunity.  Instead, you should cite examples and what resulted.  Here are two examples:

“Last Tuesday, you got behind on your work and didn’t tell anyone.  That delayed the project, which annoyed the client, who now won’t give us a referral, and messed up our schedule, which cost the company money.”
“Over the past two weeks you got into loud arguments with two of your co-workers and called them lewd names.  You distracted everyone in the office and didn’t resolve the problems.  More importantly, you didn’t act as we expect in this business.”

These specifics then set up the specific action you expect the team member to take to resolve the situation:

“In the future, you should immediately contact the project manager when you have a problem that you think will delay you.”
“If you have a dispute with someone, I expect that you will try to resolve it quietly and, if you can’t, notify your supervisor.”

So we have the format of the communication laid out.  How you deliver the message is as important as the message. In my experience, if you take an angry or nasty tone, your message is not likely to be heard.  Why?  In general, the recipient has one of three reactions: 

Terror.  What I’ve seen with this reaction is that the employee never wants to be in that position again, but they don’t necessarily know how because they’re too busy dealing with their fear.
Dismissal.  The team member concludes that you’re having a bad day or moment and the issue isn’t as bad as you’re communicating.  
Rejection.  The team member decides that you just don’t like them and there’s nothing to be done to make the situation better.

There’s actually a fourth bad outcome:  the employee quits but stays on the job.  Meaning, you have a dispirited, disengaged team member. That’s not a formula for customer satisfaction or efficient operations.

Here’s my rule for dealing with how I feel about a situation:  the angrier the situation made me, the smaller my personality.  Quiet, firm discussions are more effective than loud, angry ones.

Performance discussions are a necessary part of keeping your team running well. By being direct, specific and non-punishing, you can make those discussions contribute to a healthy, high performance organization.