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Positive confrontation gets results

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in Leaders & Managers,Performance Reviews

What do you do when one of your employees makes careless mistakes? Or comes in late? Or speaks disrespectfully to customers or clients?

Most managers try to resolve such problems informally at first. The second time, they might coach the employee in a casual conference. But if the problem persists, you have no choice but to confront it. This can be difficult--no one likes to face up to sub-standard work, a skill deficit or poor judgment. But you can plan for a "positive confrontation" that can minimize the tension of the moment and maximize the chances for a successful outcome.

Here's what to do:

Organize your ideas. Review the employee's file. Has she experienced similar problems in the past, and how were they resolved, and by whom? Do you feel the worker might be experiencing personal or job-related pressures? Try to identify possible reasons for a performance problem--without jumping to conclusions you'll regret later. Make sure your records and observations of an employee's past performance support your ideas. This is good information to have at your fingertips when you meet.

Schedule a meeting. Don't try to do this without meeting face-to-face, or at some random free point in your workday, or as part of some other discussion with the employee. Set a meeting specifically to talk about your issue. Describe the agenda in a positive way. For example, if you'll be discussing the employee's slow rate of work, tell him you'll be talking about ways both of you can make the work go faster.

Analyze poor performance together. Start by asking your employee to tell you the reasons for substandard performance. Getting workers to recognize the barriers to effective and efficient work is one of the main goals of this approach. Be prepared to move the discussion along with suggestions of your own--referring back to your preparations--but be sure to keep the focus on the problem rather than the person. Look at what happened or didn't happen, not at the employee's motives or attitudes.

Ask for suggestions. Once you are both clear on the problem and its causes, ask for solutions. How can she improve performance and better meet the expectations that go with the job? The point here is that responsibility for better performance belongs on the employee's shoulders. Your responsibility is to give the employee's ideas serious consideration and necessary support. For example, a worker may fall behind on routine tasks in part because those tasks are unnecessarily time-consuming. Say, "because your record-keeping system is cumbersome and out-of-date. You should do what you can to remove that obstacle." 

Set short-term objectives. The final step is to establish near-term benchmarks for performance improvement. Make these as concrete and quantifiable as possible. Schedule a review session to appraise progress.

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