The main reason poor performers persist within teams is their leaders are scared to talk to them about their performance concerns. You don’t want to hurt their feelings, get into an argument, or have them take revenge on you or the team. It can be an uncomfortable situation for everyone involved.
Here are 5 tactics to initiate the conversation to get the dialogue off to a productive start:
- Schedule Regular Check-Ins: Feedback and feedforward (The Ultimate Feedback Technique of Today’s Leaders) needs to happen on a regular basis to be effective. Daily or weekly check-ins with direct reports is ideal. Having regular check-in builds the relationship and allows the feedback process to become a normal part of your interactions. Randomly calling people into a meeting to deliver constructive feedback will start to build an apprehensive feeling within the team anytime you ask for a one-on-one meeting.
- Ask for Self-Evaluation: The easiest and one of the most effective ways to initiate a conversation about poor performance is to have the person identify the area of poor performance by asking them key questions such as “how do you feel you are performing in so and so areas”. Most times people are aware of their lack of performance and will give an explanation. Their self-evaluation and explanation may not be totally accurate from your perspective but that’s ok for now. The conversation has been started with you taking on the non-aggressive role of a learner.
- Tip the Balance – Don’t Sandwich: In any feedback conversation, there needs to be more positive constructive feedback delivered (yes, even for poor performers). A base line ratio to meet is 3 positive to 1 constructive piece of feedback. By having a lower ratio, you risk the person tuning you out and not acting on the constructive suggestions to improve performance. It is better to separate your negative commentary from your praise, and don’t bookend your critique with compliments in a ‘sandwich’. It sounds insincere and may dilute your message.
- Ask for Permission: Yes, I know you are the boss but asking “may I give you some feedback” lets the receiver know some critique is coming. You are showing respect to the receiver by demonstrating that you realize it is up to them to receive the message and alter the behaviour. Alternatively, perhaps they are having bad a day or are in a rush and it just may not be a good time for them to absorb any important feedback right now.
- Be Specific: You can’t be too specific when delivering constructive feedback. State the exact behaviour you have observed and let them explain what’s going on. Avoid using words such as ‘usually’, ‘sometimes’, and ‘you know’. Always use ‘I’ statements to own the feedback you are giving. After they have explained their side of the story, respond by giving specific feedback on the behaviour you would like to see altered.
These points will help you keep an open dialogue of communication with your direct reports (not just poor performers) and have them accustomed to receiving valuable constructive feedback. Avoiding these important conversations with only allow the undesired behaviours to continue, putting your team and its goals in jeopardy.
Action: In the next week pick just one of these tactics and incorporate them into your dialog with poor or underperformers on your team.
Until next week… Embrace the Adventure
Shawn Stratton is an international leadership and team building consultant, professional speaker, bestselling author, Ironman competitor, and expedition guide.
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