When Someone Isn't Performing, You Need to Know What to Say, When to Say It and HOW to Say It


Once a year I run a workshop with an employment lawyer - I teach attendees how to PREVENT ending up with personal grievances and he takes over when things go pear shaped for employers.....

My session on these workshops is teaching managers how to have the dreaded conversations - I use role play - which everyone hates - but once they've had a few practices, then the thought of doing the real thing isn't quite so daunting.

I teach them the following questioning techniques:

1. Open questions - to get the employee's point of view (there may be factors you genuinely don't know about).....

2. Active listening - so you clearly understand what they are saying. Something like ‘So the reason you are having challenges getting to work on time each day is that you have to drop your children off at day care at the other end of the city?'

3. Ask some Open questions again along the lines of 'I can understand that is a problem, but we do need you here ready to start work at 8.30 (or whatever the performance problem is), how do you think this can be resolved' or ‘what can you do differently to address your time keeping?'

4. The Banana question. Not always required, but employees are pretty good at putting the problem back on the manager, so the banana question is a great technique for putting the monkey back where it belongs - on their shoulders. When they say something like 'you need to be talking to XYZ they are far worse than me' the response would be 'We are not here to talk about XYZ, we are here to talk about your ........... So what do you plan to do to address the problem?

5. The closed question - this elicits only yes or no answers. Listen to most TV interviewers and you will hear them ask long and convoluted questions which only allow the interviewee to say yes or no!! However, in a performance discussion there is a wonderful place for the closed question - it is when you have gone round in circles for a while appearing to gain very little traction - and then you ask 'Do you realise, that unless we can get your time keeping on track, this could lead to disciplinary action?

6. The power of the pause. When you've asked your CLOSED question, learn to shut up! We tend to want to rush in wanting to fix things. Don't. Its not YOUR problem, its theirs.

So there you have it - 6 steps to dealing with even the most recalcitrant employee.


Ann Andrews CSP specialises in working with high performing teams and showing managers how to deal with poor performance.

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