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A Tough Conversation

28 October, 2015 - 12:53

As you wake up this morning, you think about the performance evaluation you will give one of your employees, Sean, later this morning. Sean has been with your company for two years, and over the last six months his performance has begun to slide. As the manager, it is your responsibility to talk with him about performance, which you have done on several occasions. However, the performance evaluation will make his nonperformance more formalized. You know that Sean has had some personal troubles that can account for some of the performance issues, but despite this, you really need to get his performance up to par. Your goal in the performance evaluation interview today is to create an improvement plan for Sean, while documenting his nonperformance.

When you arrive at work, you look over the essay rating part of Sean’s evaluation. It details two client project deadlines that were missed, as well as the over-budget amounts of the two client projects. It was Sean’s responsibility to oversee both aspects of this project. When Sean arrives at your office, you greet him, ask him to take a seat, and begin to discuss the evaluation with him.

“Sean, while you have always been a high performer, these last few months have been lackluster. On two of your projects, you were over budget and late. The client commented on both of these aspects when it filled out the client evaluation. As a result, you can see this is documented in your performance evaluation.”

Using defensive nonverbal language, Sean says, “Missing the project deadlines and budget wasn’t my fault. Emily said everything was under control, and I trusted her. She is the one who should have a bad performance review.”

You say, “Ultimately, as the account director, you are responsible, as outlined in your job description. As you know, it is important to manage the accountability within your team, and in this case, you didn’t perform. In fact, in your 360 reviews, several of your colleagues suggested you were not putting in enough time on the projects and seemed distracted.”

“I really dislike those 360 reviews. It really is just a popularity contest, anyway,” Sean says. “So, am I fired for these two mistakes?” You have worked with people who exhibited this type of defensive behavior before, and you know it is natural for people to feel like they need to defend themselves when having this type of conversation. You decide to move the conversation ahead and focus on future behavior rather than past behavior.

You say, “Sean, you normally add a lot of value to the organization. Although these issues will be documented in your performance evaluation, I believe you can produce high-quality work. As a result, let’s work together to develop an improvement plan so you can continue to add value to the organization. The improvement plan addresses project deadlines and budgets, and I think you will find it helpful for your career development.”

Sean agrees begrudgingly and you begin to show him the improvement plan document the company uses, so you can fill it out together.

When you head home after work, you think about the day’s events and about Sean. As you had suspected, he was defensive at first but seemed enthusiastic to work on the improvement plan after you showed him the document. You feel positive that this performance evaluation was a step in the right direction to ensure Sean continues to be a high producer in the company, despite these mistakes.