As a business owner or manager employing people, there will always be occasions when you will need to talk with someone about their performance. This will always be a stressful situation, so it is important that you have a clear framework on how to have a performance-based discussion.

The starting point for good employee performance is providing a very clear understanding of the duties involved in the role, the knowledge, skills and experience required, the activities required to be carried out and the results/outcomes they are expected to achieve. These should always be very clearly stated in an employee’s job description and discussed with them, whether they are new to the company or if they are changing roles within your organisation.

It is important that a poor performance-based discussion does not get confused with a regular performance appraisal discussion. A performance appraisal session, is a session held on a regular basis, as nominated by your organisation, (every 3,6,12 months etc) that is designed to take an overall look at an employee’s performance over the set period and sets plans in place for the next period. It is also important to communicate to employee’s that it is a regular performance appraisal, not a pay review.

A discussion based on dealing with a poor performance issue, is a conversation that is had when a poor performance issues of a serious nature is identified and needs to be dealt with immediately.

This article is about the poor performance conversation, not the whole process.

There is a seven-step formula for having a performance-based conversations.

What, Why, How, What, How, Agree Time frame & Document.

When we are having a performance discussion with an employee, we need to follow this seven-step formula to ensure that both parties have a clear understanding of what the situation is.

We work through the formula as follows;

First, we need to advise the employee that this a meeting based on their poor performance.


We start the conversation with what the issue is. i.e. Over the past week, you have arrived at work between 30 and 40 minutes late each day.

It is important that you focus on the main issues, do not discuss other minor or nonrelated issues in this conversation. If there is more than one issue to be discussed in this meeting, they need to be clearly stated separately and address individually.


Once the specific problem has been stated, you will now need to clearly state why it is a problem. i.e. When you come in late to work, we need to move another team member from their role into your role until you arrive. This means their role is not being carried out.

We are showing why their arriving late at work is creating problem to the team and the organisation.


Next we need to state how this affects the team and the organisation. i.e. when you are late and we have to move another team member into your role, it means our phones are not answered as quickly as required, resulting in poor service to our customers and lost business. It also means that particular team member is now behind in carrying out their duties in their role.

At this point, you will now have a discussion around, why the person is coming into work late. On most occasions you will be able to determine why this is happening and arrange a solution to the problem.

During this discussion, things may get tense a lot of things can be said, that may not even be relevant to the issue. The team member may not agree that there is a problem. You need to be firm and stay on focus with the specific issue.


Ask your team member, “What can you do to rectify the situation?” Here, we are asking the team member to think about what they can do to ensure they arrive at work on time. We need to encourage them to identify several ways that it could be resolved, and then to determine which will be the best solution.


Ask them, “Is there anything I can do to help you solve the problem?” We need to clearly understand, their being late is a problem they need to solve, this question enables them to think about and tell you what they believe you can do to help.

Agree and Set a Time Frame

Once they have found a solution, you can now agree on what action can be taken and set a timeframe on when the problem is expected to be resolved. It could be immediately, or it may take a set time to finally have it resolved. However, a timeframe needs to be agreed.

At this point, you will remind the team member on what the whole process for improving poor performance, where it is currently at and what the steps going forward will be.

I have experienced incidences when team members don’t agree that there is a problem. In these instances, I have advised them that from the companies’ viewpoint, it is a problem and that they need to view the issue seriously and take the appropriate actions required to rectify the situation.


The whole discussion needs to be clearly documented, and both the employer and employee being asked to sign the document. You will find occasions when the employee is not prepared to sign the document.

The same discussion is held for each step in the process of dealing with poor performance. By following this seven-step discussion process, you will be able to stay focus on the specific performance issue, with clarity and not be distracted by other issues or excuses.

The one thing I always kept myself focused on when dealing with a poor performance issue was, that I wanted to turn the problem around and keep the employee onboard. If this did not happen and I had to terminate the employee’s employment, I always felt that I had failed. I have been told that that is silly, but my team members were always important to me and the company. Every reasonable effort needed to be taken to keep them onboard.

Working with employee poor performance can be a difficult process, this framework is designed to help you work through the process with a clear, and focused mind.

Have a great week,

Peter Johnson – The Time Retriever  –  www.timeretrievers.com.au



Peter is an experienced business coach who has been working with over 158 businesses and childcare centres, and thousands of people in his workshops and speaking engagements.

He found that the biggest issue for business owners, is their inability to take control of their day and to stop putting things off to later because of distractions and interruptions, resulting in their failing to get those important things done when they planned.

He has helped business owners create successful businesses, through first developing their time management skills and then using these skills, plus many others, to grow and develop the critical areas of their businesses.

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