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Counselling Employees with Performance Problems

Wayne Kehl | April 5, 2011

 

Most managers and supervisors are regularly presented with the need to address a performance issue. Unfortunately, too many leaders don't do it. But do it, you must.
 
How do you make yourself deal with this unpleasant issue when you have so many things to take care of and this is not your favourite kind of conversation? What words and what approach will be effective in changing the employee’s performance or behavior, while minimizing the risk of losing them? Turnover is expensive, and if the employee has any potential, it’s worth the effort to try to save him or her. If you tend to put this kind of a discussion off, give yourself an incentive by remembering that it’s definitely costing you money. Even one poor performer decreases productivity and lowers morale on your team. If you are occasionally challenged about how to have these conversations and tend to put them off, keep reading for some advice on how to be successful in this kind of tough—and necessary discussion.
Planning and Executing the Counselling (Coaching) Session
·          Speak to the employee in person (or by telephone if they are located at a distance) and schedule an appointment that is mutually convenient. It’s better not to try to catch the person off-guard. Let them know you want to talk about some concerns you have regarding their performance. Be as calm and non-threatening as you can when you say this, but say it directly and in a business-like tone. Schedule adequate time for this meeting. It’s not just you, the manager or supervisor, who will need talk-time; you will be trying to create dialogue in this session, so allow time for that to occur.
·          Prior to your meeting, do your homework. Be sure you can describe clearly what the issue is: Is it a performance problem? A conduct problem? Jot down specific instances or evidence that support your concern. Plan what you will say to your employee before your meeting. It’s especially helpful to write it down and commit your first few sentences to memory. This will help you feel more confident. Writing it down will help you clearly say what you mean and, at the same time, keep your anger in check.
·          Schedule a time when you can speak to the person privately at a place where you will not be overheard—a conference room, your office, or the employee’s office. Don’t use a cubicle where you can—and probably will—be overheard.
·          It’s helpful to begin the coaching/counseling session with an opening statement much like this: “I have a problem that I need your help in solving.” Maintain that kind of attitude and intention! Asking for someone’s help is less threatening to them than beginning with an accusation. After your opening statement, continue to describe the details of the issue and the evidence you compiled in your homework. Do not make accusations or evaluations at this point; stick to the facts.
·          Once you have taken a few minutes to describe your concerns, invite the employee’s comments or perceptions. A statement something like, “Tell me what’s going on with you?” helps draw the employee into a dialogue. At this point, it’s important that you stop talking and listen openly. Don’t be trying to formulate your next response when they are speaking. Do they have some points, some explanation, or some information you were unaware of? Acknowledge any points they may have. If what they offer is excuses, you need to stick to your guns. Don’t be trapped into solving the employee’s problem or accepting their excuses. Challenge their excuses and help them problem-solve by asking something like: “So what actions can you take to be sure you do not oversleep again?”
·          Be as kind as possible, but once you have listened to their side of the story be sure that you clearly state what your expectations are for adequate performance in their current job. If you have done a good job describing their behavior in your opening comments and now have described what good performance should look like, point out the gap between their performance and what is expected. Ask them for ideas on what they need to help them move from their level of performance to the acceptable level. Do they need help from you? Additional training? Jointly develop a plan of action and agree what the employee will do and by what date these actions will be completed. The plan of action will be different depending on whether the problem is one of deficient performance or an issue of conduct.
·          Some managers and supervisors do fairly well up to this point. In order to be successful in dealing with performance problems, however, it is crucial that you both document your session and follow-up on your agreement. To document, write down the date and time of the meeting, the employee’s name, the issue discussed, and the plan of action you both agreed to; sign and date your documentation. It’s important to keep a record of this discussion (Find out where in your organization this should be kept: In your own files? In the Human Resources Office?) for the purposes of documenting your action. Keep the documentation factual, with no evaluative comments. It’s also a good idea to send a copy to the employee to remind the employee of the changes she or he agreed to make to address this issue.
·          Before you conclude your first counselling or coaching session, establish another appointment with your employee to revisit this issue. Agree on when the follow-up meeting should be held, based on the issue, the action plan, and your specific needs or policies—2 weeks? 30 days? Do not fail to schedule this meeting. If you do, you may fall into the trap of letting your employee think that if you don’t call them in to speak with them again, that you must be satisfied with changes they have made. Leave nothing to interpretation!
·          Whether they improve or whether they don’t, it’s important to have this follow-up meeting. If you have noticed positive changes as a result of your initial session, the follow-up meeting (which you will also need to document) will give you the opportunity to praise and reinforce your employee’s new behavior. This action will help keep them on the right track. If nothing has changed at the follow-up time, your employee should be told that you will initiate the steps of progressive discipline which could result in termination if the issue is not resolved.
·          A stickier condition is when follow-up occurs and the employee has improved somewhat but has not come up to the level of your expectations. If he or she is making positive changes which you can identify, it may be a good idea to set a second follow-up meeting by which time clear, consistent, and specific changes will have been made that meet specific performance standards, or progressive discipline will be initiated. The number of counselling sessions you have with your challenging employee will depend largely on company culture and policy. In most instances, having one such session before formal disciplinary action begins is a good idea. More than two such sessions, however, may be ineffective; the employee will get the idea that the company is all talk and no action.
·          If an employee cannot or will not improve, you and your department will be better served by seeking another employee who is a better match for your needs. If you take proactive steps to deal with your challenging employees in the manner described above, you can often help them meet expectations and become a good employee.

This information is presented as courtesy by Dyanamic Leadership Inc. If you have questions or would like to discuss our services, please contact us by clicking the contact us tab above

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