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Prioritise performance discussions
Oct 25, 2014

Prioritise performance discussions

The role of leadership is to transform the complex into small pieces and prioritise them.


Carlos Ghosn


Last year a client confided in me that he felt awful because during the course of a firm merger, one of his staff was considered surplus to the requirements of the merged organisation. It transpired, however, that the reason was that the financial performance of the person concerned was, and had been, poor - for the best part of five years. It is always a risk being brutally honest with clients but in this case it was warranted. I said to the client - 'don't feel awful about it now - you should feel awful for not dealing with it five years ago when it was first a problem.' In avoiding a difficult conversation he had denied that employee the opportunity to improve, or move on and find somewhere that suited him.


No one likes confrontation, or difficult conversations. Even those experienced in having them don't enjoy it, or even welcome it - and frankly if the day comes that as a practitioner in either HR or general management you don't get anxious about it or feel some level of sympathy for the employee, then it is time to move on to another job. Empathy is a vital ingredient in having difficult conversations.

Honesty is always the best policy - as long as it is constructive honesty. Feedback that is given in a genuine way, with the focus on what can be done to improve the situation, will more often than not resolve the problem. Especially if the employee suggests ways to improve. Not talking about it means that the person with the behavioural issue of concern remains blissfully unaware of it. Feedback which is not constructive and just a long list of someone's failings is not conducive to remedial behaviour.

If you are conducting what I call 'replays' in your head, of conversations you imagine having with an employee over performance concerns, then that is a sign that you actually have to have that conversation.

Prioritise it. Plan it. And Practise it. You will be surprised at what can be achieved.