When should I discuss money?

Salaries shouldn't be a part of the quarterly discussions. They shouldn't be discussed until the year-end appraisal and then only after you have completed the year-end evaluation. Keeping the topics separate ensures that the subject of money doesn't distract the employee from discussion of his or her performance.

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Your company may be one of those that have managers hold off discussing dollars to make sure all the paperwork has been processed and senior management is in agreement with the final assessment. It can be awkward if the manager gives one rating to the employee, with the concomitant raise, and then management lowers the rating and subsequent salary increase.

How can I counsel a poorly performing employee?

The secret to good counseling is achieving the following objectives with the marginal performer during a one-on-one meeting:

- Get the employee to agree that there is a need for a change in quality of performance.

- Identify the nature of the problem in the employee's performance.

- Reach agreement on the specific actions that the employee will take to improve performance and set a timetable by which continued improved performance will be evident.

- Follow up regularly with the employee to ensure that she is reaching the goals you both have set.

- Recognize efforts at improvement. Failure to improve should be answered by termination.

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The communication process itself involves five steps:

Step 1: Describe the undesirable behavior. With documentation, you can point to specific incidents to show a discrepancy between the expected performance and the reality or impact of the employee's behavior on workflow.

Step 2: Listen to the response. You need to give the worker the opportunity to tell his side of the story or otherwise explain the behavior.

Step 3: Identify the implications. The marginal performer has to know both the effect her behavior is having on workflow and the consequences of continuation of the behavior—at best, a lower performance rating; at worst, termination.

Step 4: Describe your expectations. What kind of behavior do you want the employee to exhibit?

Step 5: Get commitment for change. You want to be sure that the employee understands your expectation but, more important, that he buys into the plan to achieve it. To get that cooperation, you need to encourage the employee's involvement in creating the action plan.

Listening isn't static. Rather, it is a back-and-forth flow of information and comments for the purpose of identifying the source of the problem—whether a motivational or an attitudinal issue or a training shortcoming, or a personal problem. Ask open-ended questions to encourage the employee to speak. Probe further with more open-ended questions but more pointed ones to gain greater detail. The intention is to get the employee to not only explain the sub-par performance but identify how to prevent a recurrence.

So the communication process goes on. But before all this can take place, the employee must agree that yes, indeed, a problem in performance exists and that he is responsible. A secret in gaining employee agreement lies in demonstrating a willingness to hear the employee's explanation. To prompt a response, you might say, "Tell me about it," "Is my understanding correct?" or "Is there more I need to know about what happened?"

If the employee is stalling to accept responsibility, offering to look further into the matter may be enough to get the employee to say something like, "Gee, I guess I could have handled the situation better," or "I might be responsible for what happened. What would you have wanted me to do?"

Getting cooperation is important to the success of the counseling session, but even more important is clarifying the cause of the problem.

Many different situations he behind problem performance. The cause might be due to stress within or outside the workplace, unclear priorities (more attributable to you than the employee), or poor time or task management on the employee's part. Personal problems also create work-related problems, distracting employees from the work and making them unproductive and maybe uncooperative and argumentative. Once you have identified the cause, you are better able to develop an action plan to turn the performance around.

Thereafter, monitor progress. Failure to meet the goals set demands action on your part. Given today's lean organizations, termination may be the logical decision.

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