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The 6 most important things to talk about in a performance discussion

There comes a time in every relationship when you have to have a DTR (define the relationship) conversation. Just like any relationship, the employer-employee relationship can have its moments of bliss and frustration. We've talked about the moments of bliss and positivity in performance management (find out more here) now we're going to tackle what to do when you're frustrated. Performance discussions are a great way to lay down the law. Or in this case, lay down the expectations. Frequently when we talk to frustrated employers, our first question is "have you talked to the individual about their performance?" and we consistently hear "well…..no". We understand that performance discussions can be uncomfortable. Many times negative emotions cloud our judgment, and we'd rather sweep things under the rug than tackle them head on. While there can be many different factors associated with why an employee is under-performing, there is one tried and true method to start moving in the right direction, and that is by addressing the issues head on.

So now that you've decided it's time to sit down with the employee and talk about your collective issues, you'll want to prep for the discussion. Coming to the discussion prepared will help streamline the conversation and help you tackle the issues at hand. Depending on your circumstances, the tenure of the employee, any expectations that were already communicated, and numerous other moving parts, this discussion can feel different. The main points to make sure you cover are:

  1. When did the employee's performance get off track? Include specific dates and/or instances and facts.

  2. What the employee is doing wrong. Provide honest feedback about what the employee is doing incorrectly. If applicable, include information about a particular policy or procedure that they are not doing correctly.

  3. What the employee should change going forward. An important factor is to work with the employee to figure out how they will get their performance back on track.

  4. What additional resources the employee has that they can use. Any additional training that the employee can do, mentors/trainers/managers that can help.

  5. When do you expect to see desired results. Set a date for when you will check back in with the employee to see how their performance has improved.

  6. And finally, discuss what will happen if their performance does not improve. This can take many different shapes. Some options include disciplinary action, additional follow-up, and changes to job duties. Head over here to find out more about progressive disciplinary action. ​


Outlining what you will discuss beforehand will help streamline the discussion and can help de-escalate any feelings of frustration. Remember that your employees can't read your mind. While their performance may have been keeping you up late at night, they may not even know that there is an issue.

The employee knows themselves better than anyone else. Work with the employee to find out how they plan to get their performance back on track. The employee should be an active participant in the discussion and not simply told what you would like them to do. Help them brainstorm ideas, offer suggestions, and provide them with resources if necessary.

While we understand that performance management can be a tricky, overwhelming, and sometimes downright frustrating, remember that you chose that employee for a reason. Out of a handful, hundreds, maybe even thousands of applicants you narrowed it down to that one individual. Having the tough discussions now will help you later down the road when your relationship gets more serious.

We love HR so you can love what you do. simplyHR is an HR consulting firm located in Fort Collins, CO providing partnerships to companies in all 50 states. Our goal at simplyHR is to provide training, education, partnership, and resources to make Human Resources simple for small businesses.


The content of this website provides practical and HR best practice information and is not legal advice. simplyHR LLC does not provide legal advice or other professional services. While every effort is made to provide accurate and current information, laws change regularly and may vary depending on the state and/or the municipality your business operates in. The information provided from simplyHR is provided for informational purposes and is not a substitute for legal advice or your professional judgement. You should review applicable federal, state and municipality laws in your jurisdiction and consult with legal counsel as you deem necessary.