The Message

What are you saying?

Not long ago I lamented the fact that many poor performers don’t know the actual truth about their workplace contributions. While there are several reasons for that, the key seems to be an unwillingness to have the tough conversations. Now why is that?

Let’s examine the challenges and solutions for driving conversation.


Often managers tell me they’re averse to conversations that might hurt employee’s feelings. I don’t believe this. My experience is many managers – not all – simply don’t have the emotional intelligence to parse that conversation correctly. They’re just not equipped.

Solution? Read, practice and develop your EQ. You owe it to your team to give them straight actionable feedback on a timely basis. If someone is heading for a career cliff and you let them know a mile ahead, they can change. Let them know 50 feet from the cliff’s edge, not so much. Develop your EQ to have the talk in a professional helpful way.


Fear and feelings are related but I want to take a closer look at fear in the eyes of the manager. Beyond just not having the tools (see last section) the fear in this section is that of more work, self-induced. I.e., a poor performer is a problem but kind of a known problem with a relatively predictable curve. The fear is if the manager intervenes he or she not only creates more work fr themselves (the self-inducement theory) but the performance might actually decrease.

Yet the truth is low performance seldom if ever corrects itself. Much like the frog in the pot of water over time things gets very uncomfortable. And remember that 90% of what we worry about doesn’t come true. So letting fear of creating more work or increasing low performance is a false roadblock. Just like you feel when you finally deal with a problem head on you will actually feel relieved when you find the time and words to share with low performers. Net, do not fear the fear.


Last but never least a key reason we don’t address performance problems is the fallout we perceive. Potential negative reaction from the employee, co-workers distracted, more work, discussions with your boss and, perhaps, in a worst-case scenario, an exit and horror of horrors – no backfill headcount. These are all potential but not axiomatic.

The solution in the vast majority of cases is to establish early on that you are frequently going to coach your people. This helps them become used to your interventions. And should things get to the point where this coaching turns to counseling and even higher levels of intervention, know that you are doing the right thing for the business. And your career.

The old adage that even a poor performer is better than no performer is wrong. Argue if you like, but even if your team were down one headcount, the remaining higher performers would be more focused, productive and yes happy, if you were seen as fair and actionable. I.e., your manage your team and communicate with everyone.

Managing performance at its heart is all about sharing a message with people. Each team member gets the message they deserve.

Go sharpen your pencil and begin pulling together that message now.


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