Improving the performance of a team member is not a one-way street. Your team members will trust and follow you only when they feel you put in an effort to make their life and work-life better. If you remember one thing about this process, let it be this: Your team will always remember how you make them feel while at work, to riff on Maya Angelou’s famous quote.
Addressing an underperforming team member is a difficult conversation for both sides. This is why I take an approach that comes from empathic concern. In its simplest form, it means you understand what people need from you without them asking.
Take time to connect a few weeks prior to the official meeting, if you can. Strike up a conversation that feels authentic on your part. If this feels awkward, then your approach as a leader may have some other issues to be addressed first.
As you connect, you may discover what’s really going on. The reason for their work performance being lower may be because they are struggling with something else at home, or possibly a different issue at work. The point is you will never know unless you approach the situation with actual care and concern.
This step is unorthodox: Ask your staff member what they think you or the company can do better. I’ve found that this approach builds rapport and decreases tension, which is a crucial part for the next step to work correctly.
This step allows for unspoken frustrations to have a voice, but only if you take time to listen. Don’t get defensive and be prepared to listen to something that may hurt you. Listening intently is the key to connecting. Ask how they would solve this problem if they were in your position. Validate their concern. Thank them for their honesty. Then, truly take the time to reflect on their feedback.
Now, here’s the step that you’ve been waiting for. Turn the question back to them: “In the same spirit of getting better, what’s one thing you think that you can improve on or something that you think can be done better by you when it comes to your job?”
Then listen. Don’t criticize. Don’t agree. Just listen. If this team member cares, which most do, they already know where and how they’re underperforming and will offer a solution. Once they’re finished, thank them for being upfront and open. Talk through ways to keep each other accountable and set up a meeting for one week later to discuss the outline for moving forward.
It’s easy to point out who isn’t functioning well in your organization; it’s tougher when you look inward first to see how you can change the environment so people can do a better job. When you change the way you approach connecting with people, people change the way they function around you and with you.
Change takes effort, but just like anything else, it pays off when done right.
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2022 issue of SUCCESS magazine. Photos by Shutterstock