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Lift employees from the muck

Set clear, positive expectations for poor performers

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in Leaders & Managers

Pam woke up in a sweat. She dreaded having to call Angela into her office later that day to say, “Your work is sloppy. Your mistakes cost us money. You need to improve or find another job.”

Like Pam, many WS readers dislike having to discipline their workers. And the employees who fail to produce acceptable work are rarely the easiest ones with whom to talk. They may be prickly, snide or cryptic. To discipline them:

Make it spontaneous. If you say, “Please see me at 4 p.m.,” anxiety will mount for both you and the employee. Instead, find the right moment to call the individual into your office.

Get to the point. Open the meeting by saying, “You probably know I haven’t been happy with your work.” Then pause. Some employees might blurt out, “Yeah, you’ve been picking on me a lot,” or otherwise try to take the offensive. Don’t fall for the bait.

Stay “on message” by connecting whatever the person says to the need for improvement. Example: “I don’t mean to pick on you. But I have growing concerns with your work, and that’s what I want to discuss with you.”

Look ahead. Emphasize what the person must do to bring performance to an acceptable level. By reinforcing the specific job responsibilities and your needs and expectations, you prevent the conversation from becoming punitive. If the employee cries or argues, say, “Let’s put things in perspective. You need to improve, so let’s discuss that.”

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