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Difficult conversations: easier than you might think

We’ve recently been working with Bare Bones Consulting clients to upskill their managers in conducting difficult conversations to address employee underperformance. Here’s the snapshot:

Employee underperformance can take many forms:

  • a failure to perform the duties of the position or to perform them to the standard required
  • non-compliance with workplace policies or procedures
  • disruptive or negative behaviour that impacts on co-workers

There are many reasons for employee underperformance, including:

  • the employee not knowing what is expected of them
  • a mismatch between an employee’s capabilities and the job they are required to undertake
  • lack of personal motivation or low morale in the workplace

Whatever the reason, it’s vital underperformance be addressed…and the earlier the better. But let’s be realistic: no one enjoys doing this. Conversations around employee underperformance are difficult for all concerned and, as a result, employee underperformance often goes unaddressed…and escalates.

If you take one thing away from this blog, it should be this: when it comes to effective people management, it’s less important to be nice and more important to be fair. And that means dealing with people when they underperform. From your line level employees to your executives: no exceptions.

Here’s some tips to help you manage these challenging discussions:

Take a breath: focus on taking the emotion out of difficult conversations. Take some time to calm yourself by doing some preparation on the upcoming discussion. Still sh*tty? Take some more time.

Separate the performance from the person: performance discussions should always be based on observable behaviours, not personal characteristics. Got a persistently late team member? List the dates and arrival times. When you focus on the observable behaviour, emotion is naturally minimised.

Define the problem: what’s the exact underperformance example? Make this as simple and concise as possible so the employee understands your concern.

Explain the impact: underperformance typically affects the business, co-workers or both. Useful terminology for these discussions is on impact to “reputation, viability or profitability”. There’s a specific reason for these 3 keywords. Five bucks to the first person who calls me with the reason.

There’s a number of standard steps that follow when conducting underperformance conversations. And they are simple. Really simple. Like to know more? Contact Bare Bones consulting here or give us a call; we can show you how to make the difficult conversations less difficult…so you have less of them.

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Note: Bare Bones Consulting provides HR services for employers. Employees seeking advice on workplace concerns should contact the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94.