Is there a worse conversation for a manager than the one when you tell someone you’re writing them up?
We all know what this means to the employee. Essentially, you’re telling them you need to write them up, which is really just the legal way of saying things aren’t working out and HR is making you follow this path instead of just firing you. So, you go through the motions of the 90-day notice for them to go find a new job.
Does that sound about right?
It really sucks, though, because you need to deliver the message about corrective action, but you don't necessarily want to lose the employee. Sharing the news and saving the employee is the holy grail of manager communications! If you do it effectively, you'll make the boss hall of fame.
How to have a conversation about corrective action
Here's what I like to do when I share my intent to write up an employee:
- I don't tell them I need to write them up. I let them know we need to talk to their performance.
- It's my job to get this employee to agree there's a problem. That isn't always easy. Start with a clear definition of what you believe the problem is.
- Once we agree there's a problem, I like to come up with a plan that I’m going to help my employee carry out. We put the plan in writing and meet weekly to talk progress.
- My entire message is about improvement, assistance, and help. It's not about me commanding them to do a list of items or be fired. I don't hire to fire. I hire to make someone wildly successful.
Leaders tend to put this conversation off for so long we’re left with limited options to help employees who are struggling with their performance. So, it's important to address low performance sooner than later.
How long do I wait to address a performance issue?
About twenty seconds after I discover I have a performance issue!
Here's what I've learned as a leader:
Every single time I’ve waited to address a performance issue, it got worse. It never self-corrected. We wait because we hate conflict and we truly want the person to figure it out on their own because we don't want to have to have that discussion about writing them up.
If you address performance issues right away, you never actually have to have that conversation in the first place.
Instead, you can have a conversation with the steps I outlined above and make it about coaching your employee to a successful change. The coaching conversation is so much easier to have for both you and the employee. Plus, it accomplishes the same thing. You have a written performance/improvement plan. If it works, wonderful! If it doesn't, HR is happy to have anything in writing!
I truly believe 99% of the employees I've had to have performance conversations with wanted to improve. Once in a while, you'll find the person has checked out and you'll know it pretty quickly based on their attitude. The key for you is knowing and believing they want to improve because it will show on your face, in your tone and in your body language.