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Hard Truths: It’s Time for a New Conversation

If you have an underperformer on your team, chances are you’ve had the same conversation with them multiple times. On today’s episode of Hard Truths, Dave Anderson explains why it’s time for a new conversation. You must establish a deadline, an objective, and consequences to help the person turn it around.

You can find more episodes of Hard Truths right here on ASBN.


Hi. Welcome to Hard Truths, the show where we talk about the things that need to be talked about but people don’t often want to talk about because it can be delicate, and it gets a little politically correct out there sometimes.

I want to talk about the topic it’s time for a new conversation. If you have under-performers, and most of us do or we have a one time, have you ever noticed that you keep having the same conversation with them about the same thing over and over again but nothing changes? I don’t know what the reasoning is to think that, somehow, having a 101st conversation is going to change something the other 100 didn’t, so I suggest you have a new conversation with the perennial non-performer to give them one last shot at getting on the right track and turning things around because, ultimately, our job is not to just fire people. That’s not the objective. We want to save people, help them improve, and make them a productive member of the team, at least do our part to see that that happens.

Use your own words, but I’m going to kind of walk through some steps to help you do this because maybe you already have somebody in mind as I’m describing this. Basically, you sit down with somebody and say, “We have a problem.” They’ll say, “Well, what is it?” “Well, the problem is talking to you about your problem doesn’t do any good, so we’re going to have a new conversation. And perhaps I haven’t been clear enough in the past, and I’ll accept responsibility for that, but I’m going to fix that right now.” You establish a deadline, you establish an objective, you establish a consequence, and you affirm belief to help turn the person around.

Here’s what it would sound like. Here’s the new conversation. “Again, perhaps I haven’t been clear enough in the past, so let me fix that right now. Here’s where you need to be, and here’s when you need to be there, and if you’re not there at this time, then this is what’s going to happen.” Now, notice what we’ve done so far. We’ve established an objective, “Here’s where you need to be.” Whatever that is is up to you. It needs to be appropriate to fit the situations. “Here’s when you need to be there.” You have to have a deadline. Again, that’s up to you. It needs to fit the situation. Then you have to have a consequence. It’s time for some teeth. “If you’re not there by this time, then this is what’s going to happen.” Again, that is up to you.

Then you want to affirm belief. “If I didn’t think you could be there at that time, I’d be applying the consequence right now. I think you can. I’m on your side. I’ll help you put a plan together to get you there, but my goodness, the time is running out for you. You’ve got to step up. The ball is in your court. Let’s get this figured out.”

Now, this technique is actually called negative reinforcement, but I think it’s very positive because you’re giving the person clarity and one last chance to turn things around. All those other conversations haven’t done any good, so it’s time to draw the line and have a new conversation and get it turned around. I’ve had people say, “Well, Dave, that’s kind of harsh. Here’s where you have to be. Here’s when you have to be there. If you’re not there at this time, this is what’s going to happen.” See, that’s the problem with this pampered, politically-correct society we live in. We think that, somehow, being that honest is harsh.

The hard truth is negative reinforcement is very positive because … Let’s walk through that. In this situation, does the person know where they have to be? Yes. Do they know when they have to be there? Yes. Do they know what’s going to happen if they’re not there? Absolutely. They also know you believe in them because you’ve affirmed belief. You’re on their side. You’re going to help them put a plan together. Yes, you’ve made that very clear. That’s not harsh. That’s fair. That’s very positive.

What would be harsh is continuing to have the same worthless conversation with and under-performer and nothing changes and, one day, you get fed up, you tell them, “Pack your stuff. You’re out of here,” and they never saw it coming because you were never honest with them about where they had to be and by when and what would happen if they weren’t there.

If you have someone and it’s time to have this new conversation, have it quickly. Nothing’s going to change by talking about the same problem the same way over and over again. Change your approach. That’s what needs to change. Again, wherever they have to be, whatever the deadline is, whatever the consequence is, that’s all up to you, and make sure you affirm belief, but have it. Have it quickly. Be polite. Obviously, you don’t have be a jerk to have this conversation. Be firm. Be conversational, but be very direct. Leave no gray area because, I’ll tell you this, if you’re firing people and they don’t see it coming, then it’s you who failed. You failed to do this. You failed to set the expectations, failed to give them honest feedback, failed to apply the consequences.

It’s never easy to remove somebody, but it’s easier if we know we’ve done our job by being this clear and this honest throughout the process. Chances are, if you have this conversation, the terminating won’t be necessary, but even if it is, you still come out ahead because, under these conditions, if the person hasn’t performed in the way that you expect, it’s time to cut your losses and move on. Go have a new conversation. Do it quickly. Watch what happens.

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