How to Talk to an Employee Who Isn’t Meeting Goals

By Harvard Business Review
July 9, 2019

Employees will appreciate an invitation to collaborate on improvement and becoming involved in finding a solution.

It can be worrying to have an employee who isn’t meeting goals. Confrontation is necessary, but it doesn't have to be agonizing for either of you.


Your plan for this conversation should include these steps:

ASK BEFORE TELLING: Start by asking your employee how he thinks he’s doing. Knowing how closely your perceptions are aligned will determine what you need to communicate next.

CLARIFY NON-NEGOTIABLES: Once you’ve established — tactfully — that your employee’s performance needs improvement, provide a list of clear expectations.

CONNECT TO THE EMPLOYEE’S GOALS: Your employee will be more motivated to improve his performance if a positive outcome is tied to something she wants. By asking for her thoughts, you might also discover you hadn’t appreciated the amount of work involved in a project. If that happens, together you can set more realistic goals.

DESCRIBE SPECIFIC BEHAVIORS: Clarify your employee’s failings using examples. If you say, “I’ve noticed you haven’t responded to half my emails, and you missed your last two deadlines without giving me a heads-up,” he can make a connection between his behavior and your expectations.

CRAFT A PLAN TOGETHER: Wrap up the conversation by asking your employee how she plans to bring her performance back on track. Fill in the gaps based on what she shares, and agree on a timeline and communication plan. Also, be sure to clarify how long she has to achieve specific results and what will happen if she doesn’t succeed.

Copyright 2019 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.

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