Performance Management: Top 5 Tips to a Successful Informal Conversation

By GroundedHR | July 20, 2020

Performance Management: Top 5 Tips to a Successful Informal Conversation

By GroundedHR | July 20, 2020

Posted by Caroline Chapman

on 20th July 2020

Have you ever worried about needing to speak to a staff member about their poor performance or their bad behaviour? Have you ever wondered if you were doing it ‘right’?

Speaking to a staff member about poor performance or bad behaviour can feel uncomfortable. It’s the main reason it’s called a ‘difficult’ conversation. As a business owner it is unavoidable: at some point, you’re going to need to speak to a staff member about something that you’re not happy about.



1. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Make bullet points of the issues that you want to raise. Gather examples and any evidence of the issues you want to discuss, for example, any snotty emails, times and dates of poor behaviour with customers, timekeeping records when they were late etc. The more evidence the better, but don’t go back too far in time. If this is the first time you’ve raised the issues go back 1-2 months. If you’ve spoken about it before, focus on the issues that have happened since you last spoke about it. If you’ve spoken about it before, find the notes that you made. If you didn’t make notes, try and work out roughly when you spoke about it.

2. Write bullet points of the issues that you want to raise. Leave large gaps between the bullets on your page so you can easily add in their responses. You don’t need a note-taker with you at this stage but do take notes. They can be handwritten, so long as you can read them. It can be difficult to focus on the conversation and to take notes. Advise the staff member that you will be taking notes and if you need to say, “I just need a moment to get this down”. Don’t feel you need to be rushed; it’s OK to pause the conversation.

3. Choose an appropriate time and location. Make sure you can speak confidentially without interruption. Also don’t give the staff member too much notice, for example don’t say in the morning “Can we speak at 4pm?”. This could cause unnecessary worry or give them chance to delete any evidence.

4. Do choose the timing of the conversation carefully. You know your staff member best. Are they likely to get upset or angry? Don’t speak to them just before a busy time or before an important task. Ideally, speak to them before their break or towards the end of the day. That way they can then take their break to compose themselves, or you could tell them that they can finish early and go home (on full pay) if they are really upset. If they do get really upset then there is no value in continuing the conversation, either take a break for 10-15 minutes or until the next day depending on how upset they are. Take tissues with you, just in case. If they start to well up it can really help someone keep their dignity if you offer them a tissue to stop them actually crying. Also ensure that you are seated near the exit so you can leave quickly if things were to get really aggressive.

5. Listen to the staff member. They may have legitimate reasons behind your concerns. Allow the staff member to finish what they want to say before answering. The conversation will be much more positive if the staff member feels they have been heard.

If you are thinking ‘this all sounds too difficult and time consuming, why should I bother?’ If you don’t say anything, the issues will continue and in most cases, (apart from ‘gross misconduct’ you need to have raised any issues informally before taking formal action. Secondly the staff member may not realise that there is a problem until you speak to them about it. Often a supportive conversation is about being honest, raising issues and if appropriate offering support on how to fix it. Either way the staff member will improve, or you will have laid the foundations to start formally managing them, which could ultimately lead to their dismissal.

Originally posted on the Business Wellbeing Club website –