How To Have a Performance Conversation With An Employee

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Posted by: David Garcia November 23, 2021

No one enjoys having difficult conversations, but tough conversations in the workplace may be necessary for a team’s overall well-being and success.

Performance evaluations are inevitable, but they can be particularly tricky if you have a specific employee who isn’t meeting the expectations of their role. A conversation that the employee does not take well can throw a wrench in the entire operation.

A poorly conducted performance review will also affect other employees and generate unnecessary tension between staff.

All this is to say, knowing how to have one of these conversations in a graceful and generative way is critical to getting everyone back on track.

As you prepare for one of these difficult discussions with an employee, here are 11 essential considerations to keep in mind for the conversation to go as smoothly as possible.

1. Preparation Is Key

If you want to feel truly in control of a conversation, you’ll need to spend quality time preparing for a meeting. While this seems obvious, it can often go overlooked.

It can be beneficial to have concrete details and statistics lined up to share with a staff member.

For example, suppose someone’s sales numbers are way off their target. Or, perhaps they are consistently tardy for a shift. Prepare evidence of that to share with the employee.

Concrete data gives them less room for rebuttal and conveys the gravity of the situation by showing that you mean business.

2. Dedicate Time to Talk

Performance conversations should never be squeezed in at the end of a different meeting or the final moments of a long shift. It minimizes the significance of the discussion and can make it harder for the employee to focus on the issues you want to address.

Instead, schedule a specific meeting time with the employee and stick to it. This intentional scheduling ensures you’ll be able to discuss everything you need to while keeping the conversation moving due to a confined block of time.

3. Don’t Minimize or Delay

When the time comes to sit down and talk, don’t skirt around the issue. Enter this discussion from a place of strength and address conflicts right away to convey the seriousness of the issue.

Minimizing or delaying the conversation can lead to crossed signals. The employee may think the issue isn’t important, allowing their poor performance to continue or even worsen.

4. Provide Positive Criticism

It is also essential to be strategic about how you conduct these conversations. People are more likely to reject or respond negatively to certain types of criticism, particularly when it is repetitive or in front of peers.

Positive criticism that points out how they can improve, rather than negative criticism that only degrades or destructs, is key here.

5. Paint a Bigger Picture

It can be helpful to explain how a person’s actions or choices are affecting others, whether coworkers or clients.

When an employee has a greater understanding of how their behavior ripples outward, it may encourage them to hold themself to a higher standard of accountability for the sake of the team and collective goals.

This step is crucial because it can be easy to become complacent if a person thinks their actions don’t affect anyone else. By instilling a sense of obligation to a larger community, you can inspire someone to right their wrongs and do better.

6. Reiterate the Expectations

For the conversation to be constructive, it is necessary to carefully go over the rules and expectations of the individual’s role. Whatever issues you’re trying to correct, walk the employee through the relevant company policies as if it’s their first day on the job.

This way, you can ensure that everyone is on the same page. Clear communication of the expectations can minimize any risk of the employee claiming they were unaware.

Have a copy of the employee handbook or an outline of your company’s policy manual that the employee can keep. During the meeting, you can use this as a reference tool and highlight certain sections to point out the specific problem areas.

7. Collaborate to Problem Solve

After communicating expectations to the employee, it is the perfect time to work collaboratively on a plan of action.

For lasting change, the individual needs to believe the goals are realistic and attainable. By letting the employee in on the process, you empower them to look at the situation holistically and take ownership of righting the wrongs.

When the employee offers suggestions that align with their strengths and needs, they are more likely to meet the outlined goals.

For example, suppose someone has routinely been late for their early morning shifts, which affects the business flow for the rest of the day. You learn, through conversation, that they are often late for work because they miss their bus. One solution would be to schedule that person for shifts later in the day, as it would be easier for them to get to work on time.

8. Establish Consequences

Now that you’ve clarified expectations and worked together to find realistic solutions, you’ll need to determine the consequences if the worker continues failing to meet those goals.

Here, it is always better to be detailed. Write out a plan for the specific individual and their unique situation, using your company’s policy as a guide. By turning to your disciplinary policy, you ensure that each employee receives fair treatment in the problem resolution.

It is helpful to establish an escalating series of offenses and consequences, with written warnings and clear documentation along the way. The clearer the consequences are, the less hassle you’ll face if you have to take disciplinary action.

9. Give Them the Floor

Studies show that 40% of employees feel isolated at work, leading them to feel undervalued. These feelings often contribute to poor performance.

When approaching a difficult performance conversation with an employee, it is more important than ever to ensure that they feel included and know their voice and feelings matter.

To promote this type of inclusion, allow the employee to share their side of the story. While this is not a moment for the staff member to make excuses for their poor behavior, they may share insightful information that helps you understand the issue.

In giving the person a chance to voice their feelings and listening to what they say, you also have something to gain.

10. Schedule Future Check-In

Set a specific date a few weeks in the future to check in with the employee. Make sure they know that this meeting is to review progress towards these goals and make adjustments as necessary.

A designated follow-up conversation gives the employee something concrete to work toward and the sense that they shouldn’t delay making improvements.

11. Express Gratitude and Confidence

Perhaps the most crucial step of all, always thank the person for being willing to enter into this conversation with an open mind. Share your confidence in their abilities and your excitement about the progress that they will make. A little encouragement can go a long way.


Even with these tips, having this type of conversation can take a lot of energy and add an extra layer of stress to your job. Why not simplify other aspects of work?

ScoutLogic can streamline your hiring process with bulk background checks to save you time and shrink your workload. Call today!

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