Leadership How to Talk to Team Members About Performance Written by: Wally Bock
Talking to Employee About Performance in Empty Office

I trained supervisors for decades and I asked every class what they wanted to learn most. Talking to team members about performance was always at the top of the list. Here’s what’s likely to work for you because it’s worked for hundreds of others. Start by laying the groundwork.

Get ready: Do the groundwork that makes it easier

If you wait until there’s a problem, you’ve waited too long. Do the things that prepare the ground so your performance conversations are more likely to go well.

Have regular performance meetings.

Meet with every team member, one-on-one, every week. Discuss how they’re doing, how they can do better, and how you can help. This will help you catch issues when they’re small and easy to handle.

Touch base a lot.

Great bosses touch base a lot. Make yourself part of every team member’s regular work day. Don’t be that boss who shows up only to deliver bad news. Make yourself familiar.

Have conversations that build relationships.

When you touch base have conversations. Conversations build relationships and good relationships make performance conversations easier.

Give informal notice when you notice.

When you notice something starting to go wrong, mention it to the team member. Have a conversation about why it matters. Informal means no documentation.

Go formal when necessary.

If the problem persists, it’s time to get formal. Document the most recent occurrence of the problem and mention that you’ve discussed it before. Have a conversation with the team member as soon as possible, but take the time to prepare for it.

Get set: Prepare for success

You want to deal with performance issues before they grow big and nasty, but take a few minutes to think things through.

Write down your description of what the team member did.

Write down what the team member did. Describe behavior, what the person and other people said or did. Don’t use adjectives.

Write down the impact in logical and emotional terms.

Write down why what they did matters. Describe what happened because of it. Describe how others felt about it.

Analyze the issue.

Can the team member do what you expect? You may have a resource or training problem and not a supervision problem.

Rehearse the meeting in your head.

Play “what-if.” Imagine what you will say and ways the team member will respond.

Plan for privacy.

Conduct conversations about performance away from prying eyes and ears.

Go: Have a performance conversation

You’ve done the preparation, now have the meeting. The first two items below should take less than half a minute

Tell them what the meeting is about.

Describe their behavior first. Describe only what they said and did. Don’t use adjectives.

Tell them why it matters.

Describe why what they did matters. Describe the logical end emotional results of their actions or performance.

Wait for the other person to speak.

Be silent. Wait for your team member to talk. That’s the only way to have a meaningful conversation about their performance. Wait as long as it takes, no matter how uncomfortable you get. You may discover that you’ve got the facts wrong or that there’s a reason for their behavior. So wait.

Have a conversation.

Once the team member responds you can have a conversation about the issue. This should be a problem solving session, not a scolding session.

Come to an agreement.

If you need to, come to an agreement with your team member. You should agree on what will change, when it will change, and how both of you will measure the change.

Follow up to complete the loop.

The conversation isn’t done when you reach agreement and part company. You’ve still got three things to do.

Document the meeting.

Include the date and time. Describe what was said. Write down your agreement.

Follow up on performance.

Follow up to make sure that agreement turns into change.

Critique your performance.

How did you do? The final step is to review your performance so you can do better next time.

More From Wally Bock

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Becoming a Great Boss: Where to Start

In addition to writing the Three Star Leadership blog, Wally Bock is an author, ghostwriter, writing coach and book doctor. In his past lives he has run a small publishing company, been a popular keynote speaker to audiences around the world, and served as a U. S. Marine. He loves good beer, good friends, and good stories.

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