Staff Performance: 14 Tips for Counselling Poor Performers


Staff performance sometimes falls short of expectations. You decide that you need to "have a chat" to an employee whose performance is inadequate. These 14 counselling tips will help.

1. It's about performance not behaviour. You should be concerned about behaviour only if it affects performance.

2. Ensure that the employee is absolutely certain about two things

• the precise performance you expect

• how that performance will be measured.

If there's the slightest doubt about this, reinforce the standards strongly.

3. Have clear goals for the interview. Make these clear to the employee concerned before you start.

4. Avoid questions starting with "Why"? They generate speculation, opinion and defensiveness. If you want accurate information ask questions starting with "What?" "Who?" "Which?" "When? And" How? "

5. Take a "questioning" not a "reprimand" approach. You want to find out what happened and how to ensure it does not happen again. Personal criticism will not achieve this.

6. Paraphrase: check the information you receive with constant paraphrasing. Remember, you're not trying to win an argument. You're trying to get information you can act on for better staff performance.

7. Ask the employee how they believe they should have handled the situation. You want them to improve, not reinforce the poor performance.

8. Avoid argument. You're not trying to prove who's right and who's wrong. You want specific improved on job performance not a debating victory.

9. Encourage employee contribution. Not only do you want them to feel free to speak freely. You want their recommendations for improvements to ensure a similar problem does not occur again.

10. Focus on the future. What's done is done. What happens next time is what really matters.

11. Reinforce positives in performance. Make sure the employee knows what he or she does well and what you want them to continue to do well.

12. Gain agreement on the action to be taken. Clarify any queries the employee has about the performance you expect in the future.

13. Seek their opinion about system improvements necessary to ensure the error does not recur. The problem may have arisen due to a poor system rather than a staff error.

14. Avoid threats. Focus on performance and staff member contribution to future business results.

Other Issues

  • Try to act on serious performance inadequacies as they occur. Do not want until you have repeated failures before taking remedial action. It's easier to rectify one error than the accumulated effect of many mistakes.
  • Resist the temptation to terminate the staff member unless the error is extremely damaging to the business. It costs far less to recover performance from an existing employee than to terminate him or her and employ a replacement.

But Leon … You're "Soft"

You may feel I'm being "soft" on an errant staff member. I'm not. I simply want to ensure that you give him or her every opportunity to improve. That's best for you.

If you simply want to "give 'em a rocket", do so. That's your choice. But do not delude yourself into believing that "rockets" will create long term performance improvement.


When the time comes to take action about poor performance, ensure that's what you do. Ego tripping, winning arguments and playing psychological games will not improve on job performance.