Last month we posted the initial steps to take when you have an employee whose performance is not meeting expectations. Sometimes those initial steps don’t give us the results we need and we need to prepare for a critical conversation.


Critical Conversations

1. Keeping the intention in mind.

The intention with the beginning of any performance management process is to provide feedback, offer assistance, and get a commitment to improve. The intention is not to terminate employment or to bring up a big smorgasbord of issues with the employee. 


I’m Isaac’s  manager, and he’s a long term employee. His performance has always been “ok”, but he’s never been a superstar. Now I have new staff, and they’re getting frustrated and saying that he takes too long to do certain tasks and he takes too long to respond to them. I’m also frustrated as he wants me to double check his work although he is a long term employee. I’ve tried some preliminary steps to improve his performance, but he still isn’t meeting expectations.


My intention is to provide feedback around two things. One is the timeliness of his work, and second is that he is still creating errors in his work when I’m not double checking it. 

I need to make sure that they are the things that we’re concentrating on because it can be tempting to start throwing in, “remember six months ago when we have that client feedback about ABC…”. and if I do that, it can just water down the message, be seen as a bit petty, and potentially put the employee on the defensive. 

Therefore it is really important that I keep the intention in mind so that my message is clear about the purpose of the conversation. 


2. Being aware of our own emotions, thoughts, assumptions and potential biases 


This means that if I’m thinking “Isaac’s always late with this information”, I should be testing if that is true because absolutes like “always” may instead be once a month is on time and three a month are not. Being really clear on the facts, and checking for my own assumptions and biases can help to keep the conversation on track.


3. Considering the employee’s current situation

It is important to consider what Isaac’s personal circumstances and stressors are at the moment, particularly in these global pandemic times.  This will help us to start to think about what the questions are that the employee may have, and how they may react in the conversation. 


4. Writing out your script

It will help get your thoughts down, clarify some things and if you practice it beforehand. This is an important step to be clear about how you’re going to explain that expectations aren’t being met, and what questions that you want to ask of the employee as well.


5. Actions

The point of this whole conversation is that we want to improve performance. 

Therefore, what are the actions that I want at the end? What solutions do I think are going to work? What things am I willing to consider?

 If Isaac says:

 “I just need more time to do those tasks, it does take me an extra hour than the rest of the team, and I can’t explain to you why, that’s just the way it is”

Is that something I’m willing to accept?

Or if he says:

“ I don’t want to do that particular project anymore,I think that it’s not suited to my position”

Is that something that I agree with? Am I willing to consider changing his role?

With any next steps, we need to be clear on what, who and when, and follow up on anything that we undertake to do in that meeting. 

It is best to do this in writing using a performance improvement plan where you explain the next steps, any training & development required, and then a follow up date to review.


When it gets formal

There are also considerations for how to conduct meetings that may lead to disciplinary action or employment termination so that the requirements under the Fair Work Act are followed. It is therefore important to receive advice if you are considering a formal performance management process.

If you need any assistance, our Flex HR service may be just what you need. Check it out here or contact us today for more information.