There are few tasks more awkward than sitting down with an adult, professional person and finding a way to tell him that he isn’t meeting expectations at his job. But this is a standard responsibility at the management level, and when it has to be done, managers face two options: Sugarcoat the message, spare the employee’s feelings and dignity, and hope that he’ll read between the lines and get his act together. Or deliver the message as directly as possible, prioritizing the behavior change over the employee’s feelings and ego. This is a delicate balancing act, and the stakes are high. Nobody likes being criticized, and turnover is expensive. But poor performance is also expensive. Here are a few coaching tips to keep in mind.

1. Do it now. Don’t put off the moment or allow the problem to get worse. You do your employee and your company a disservice by allowing him to believe he’s on the right track and then dropping this bomb on him at the end of an annual evaluation cycle.

2. Criticize in private, not in public. You don’t want to cause any extra stress or struggle over the matter.

3. Think before you speak. Have a plan—maybe even an entire script—in mind before you tackle this conversation. Don’t try to assemble your thoughts in the moment. This will make it easier for the employee to argue your point, and this will defeat the purpose of the meeting.

4. Have numbers and documented evidence of his shortcomings in hand before your scheduled meeting. Again, the conversation will be more effective if it’s difficult for the employee to argue or make excuses.

5. Begin by asking the employee if everything is okay. Is he feeling alright? Is he getting the resources he needs to do his job properly? Is he encountering obstacles to performance that you haven’t been able to see? Can you help him overcome these obstacles?

6. Ask the employee to respond to your charges so you’re sure he understands the point you’re trying to make. Ask him if he has any questions, and if he does, give these questions your full attention.

7. Make sure the employee knows what he’s doing right. Criticisms should be followed and preceded by compliments.

8. Give the employee clear and actionable goals related to performance improvement. Apply a reasonable timeline to these goals and agree on a regular check-in and follow-up schedule to make sure they’re being met.

9. Let the employee know what this meeting means in terms of his overall relationship with the company. Is this his third and final warning before termination? Or is this the first complaint you’ve ever had about an otherwise indispensable employee?

End the meeting on a positive note. For more on how to execute each of these recommendations, reach out to the TX staffing professionals at Expert.

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