Few employees constantly perform at a high level. Many experience highs and lows, and some get stuck in ruts longer than others. As a manager, you need to get the most out of your employees, and sometimes that means talking with poor-performing workers and helping them improve. Taking a friendly, diplomatic approach will often net you better results than using the iron-fist tactic.
Performance evaluations and criticisms always call for a private face-to-face talk with the employee in question. Phone calls and emails are too impersonal. You want the employee to feel that you care about him and want him to succeed, not that you think of him as a workplace drone who you're apathetic toward. Never make note of his performance problems in earshot of his co-workers. Take the meeting to your office or a private area. If his co-workers catch wind of his performance problems, rumors begin and he'll likely lose a great deal of respect for you.
While you might want to dive right into the crux of the issue, doing so can deflate your employee and sap his confidence. Touch on a few positives he brings to the workplace. Let him know what he does well, to reinforce his value to the company, show that you notice his contributions, and to make him understand that you didn't call him in to hammer away at his weaknesses.
Explanation and Examples
Speak about the employee's performance problems in a diplomatic manner, but don't sugarcoat them. For instance, telling him his sales numbers are dreadful is a bit too much. Instead, tell him that his numbers are below the company's and your expectations, and then tell him what those expectations are. Reinforce your stance by showing him reports, numbers and examples of his poor performance. For example, suppose he provides unacceptable customer service. Showing him customer complaints and glossing over a previous situation in which he became angry with or ignored a customer makes your case more convincing. A big part of helping an employee better himself is making him understand he needs to improve. If you're vague or don't offer evidence of his problems, he might think you're being hypercritical and that he's performing just fine.
Some employees may not understand what and who their poor performance negatively affects. If they don't realize the consequences of their actions, they may not understand why it's so important to stop doing them. Poor performance often affects co-workers, the company's reputation and success, customers and the products or services the employee is responsible for. Suppose you're a general manager for a restaurant. One of your cooks struggles with getting food out in a timely manner. Explain to him that slow service negatively affects the servers, as unhappy customers may tip less. If the servers offer a portion of their tips to the cooks, that means less money in his pocket at the end of the night.
Telling an employee he needs to up his game without helping him do so is akin to telling someone to backstroke across a pool when the person doesn't know how to swim. You're probably not going to see great results because you're just issuing a directive rather than illustrating how to succeed. Find out why the employee thinks his performance is sub-par. Ask him if he can think of a few ways to improve his performance, and then chime in with ideas of your own, keeping his concerns in mind. At the end of the meeting, you want the employee to walk out of your office with a plan to better his performance.