What I Wish Everyone Knew About Addressing Unacceptable Performance


Talking to employees about problem performance, and getting them to change is hard – unless you do four things very well. Here’s what I wish everyone knew about addressing unacceptable employee performance.

  1. You have to have a plan; otherwise, you’ll get off track, and your employees won’t make changes.
  2. Coach like a coach. Don’t try to be friends with employees. Your job is to bring out their best.
  3. Get agreement. You can’t fix a problem that doesn’t exist in the mind of your employee. Help employees see the impact of their performance.
  4. Don’t accept excuses. Whining, blaming, and justifying are common defense mechanisms. Don’t let excuses fly.

I’m walking you through these 4 points so you can nip unacceptable performance in the bud.

Have a plan

Don’t sit down to talk to an employee about a problem until you know precisely what you want them to know, how you want them to feel, and what you want them to do differently. Without a plan, you’ll get off track.

Before I have an important discussion, I always ask myself, what do I want the person to know? This becomes my bulleted list of objectives for the conversation. How do I want them to feel? Hopeful, disappointed in their recent performance, a sense of urgency. And what do I want them to do after our talk? I want them to own the problem and make an immediate change. Or maybe I want them to reach out to me for help anytime they get stuck.

Coach like a coach

Your job is not to be friends with your employees or to be easy on people. You’re paid to take great people and push them to be even better.

I spent last week in Carpinteria filming two customer service courses. My Director and Producer cut several times to give me feedback – slow that down just a bit, talk like you’re having a one on one conversation, not like you’re in a lecture hall, more energy there.

They weren’t worried about hurting my feelings. The endgame was for me to give viewers a fantastic learning experience, and that meant giving me some sharp feedback. Think about your end goal when talking to employees and keep your focus there. You’re there to make people great so that they can deliver excellent customer experiences.

Get agreement

You can’t fix a problem that doesn’t exist. So, you have to get your employee to agree that a problem exists, and this can be the hardest part of addressing unacceptable performance. But look how easy this is. “I’m sure your intent wasn’t to omit notes, but don’t you see the pattern here? In 11 cases in the past two weeks, there are little to no notes on your conversations with customers.” Or this. “We may disagree on what I mean by harsh tone, but I want you to see how you’re coming across to customers.”

Don’t accept excuses

If an employee brings up another person or another issue to distract you, say, “How does this relate to your performance?” And then get back to the business of fixing the problem on the table.

If an employee throws out reason after reason for why they can’t do so-and-so, come back with, “Let’s talk about how you/we can remove some of these roadblocks.” Don’t accept excuses, because if you do, you’ll go around this mountain again and again, never getting to your top goal.

2019 Is the Year You’ll Eliminate Unacceptable Performance

I haven’t done a live webinar in two, maybe three years. But conversations with my clients tell me that a lot of people struggle with how to talk to employees about problem performance. It’s time to fix this.

On Friday, February 1st I’m facilitating a 45-minute webinar on How to Solve Your Biggest Problems with Coaching Employees. If you struggle to address unacceptable performance or behavior, you should join me.