Confronting poor performance

  • In the worst companies, managers will withdraw into silence
  • In the average companies, managers will say something, but only to the higher authorities
  • In the best companies, managers will hold a crucial confrontation, face-to-face and in the moment
  1. Deal with your own ego — the temptation to use positional power to manipulate results is ever-present. Park your own agenda and preferences at the door and learn to relate any issues to company expectations and values. Managing ego means that your biases and negative emotions (like frustration or anger) are eliminated from any confrontation.
  2. Create psychological safety — make the confrontation a safe environment for honesty and transparency. Perhaps even state what the conversation is not about — e.g., “We are impressed with your ability to create warmth in your relationships with our customers and the way that you sort out issues that they have so gracefully. Well done. So this conversation is not about how you connect with the customers at all. What I do want to talk about, however, is the following…”
  3. State the gap — give evidence of the problem through real data — what you have seen or heard. Never assume personality deficiencies or describe possible intent (e.g., “I think that you are lazy because…”), but rather focus on the performance gap.
  4. Ask a relevant diagnostic question — don’t ask a question as an accusation, like “what’s wrong with you?” Just ask honestly what transpired. The book, Crucial Confrontations, suggests simply, “What happened?”
  5. Listen for understanding — make a serious attempt to get to grips with any underlying issues, like a lack of motivation or a lack of ability. These will have two different approaches to solution-finding.
  6. Solicit potential solutions — don’t suggest what needs to be done in terms of ensuing action but solicit action steps from the employee. This serves the purpose of engendering employee ownership for the path ahead.



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Jonathan Mills

Jonathan Mills


Jonathan has spent over 30 years focusing his efforts on developing people throughout the world. He believes that people have the most impact when stretched.