DO BETTER! Here are four things to remember when delivering tough performance conversations:
Not all of your teammates are going to be stellar performers. I happen to think that’s not a bad thing. After all, if everyone wanted to be the CEO, you’d have a hard time making the widgets. Positive reinforcement of performance is a key ingredient to ensuring folks know you value them, and recognize their contribution to the success of your organization. I discuss several ways to honor and recognize performance in my second book, The Secret Sauce. But what about those folks whose performance is lacking? There comes a time in every leader’s journey when you need to deliver tough conversations for the purpose of improvement. I’ve had many of these tough conversations over my decades of experience in leadership, and I’ve certainly gotten better at it over time. Maybe you’ll never love this part of leadership, but here are four things that will make these conversations easier for you to deliver, and more meaningful for the recipient.
1. Be prepared to evaluate performance with specifics.
This isn’t the time to be wishy-washy. Know why you believe the teammate’s performance needs improvement, and be prepared to offer not only specific examples that didn’t hit the mark, but also have specific examples of what right looks like. Don’t hide the ball. People can’t meet your expectations if they don’t clearly understand them. This will require you to do your homework. If a teammate is missing key performance indicators but you don’t know why, you need to understand where they’re missing the mark and have a clear discussion about what actions are resulting in the miss, or what they need to start doing to make a change. This will be most beneficial for both of you if you have a discussion about the behaviors that need to start, stop or continue. After all, the teammate likely knows his or her role and all its challenges better than you do.
2. Clearly lay out expectations, including timelines.
The teammate needs to know exactly what you expect from them in the way of performance expectations, and this shouldn’t be the first time they’re hearing it. Tell them again what right looks like, and clearly lay out a specific timeframe for improvement, as well as touch points where you’ll revisit that performance is indeed moving in the right direction. Make certain the teammate knows what you consider to be improvement, and that he or she has a clear understanding of how and when you’ll measure it.
Sometimes what you deem as failure may actually be the start of something innovative. It may not be, too. But, you won’t really understand what is driving the person’s behavior unless you listen. Performance conversations should be just that, a conversation. If you’re simply “laying down the line” and telling the teammate their performance isn’t satisfactory without providing the opportunity to problem solve, the likelihood of improvement isn’t great. Don’t let this be the time for excuses though, so don’t let the discussion go there. Listen, engage, and collaborate on ways to improve.
4. Timing is everything.
Boy have I mucked this one up a few times. Performance improvement conversations are important, and require both you and the recipient to be laser focused on the discussion. Don’t schedule these meetings or phone calls when you have a hard stop or can’t devote sufficient time to prepare. AND, be aware of the recipient’s schedule as well. Don’t put this discussion on their schedule right before they are scheduled to conduct a meeting or meet with an important client. If you don’t time these meetings in a thoughtful way, you won’t meet the goal, which is ultimately improved performance. Quite simply, you’ll just find yourself having to repeat the conversation again anyway.
These conversations are opportunities to help someone improve, and everyone can feel great about that. Deliver these conversations respectfully and thoughtfully, and you’ll be more likely to see improved results. And yes, not everyone wants to improve or change or even listen. If that is the case (and you’ve delivered your observations and expectations respectfully) ultimately you and the teammate may agree its time for them to move on. That’s okay, too.