In Effective Communication, Leadership, Leadership Tips, Performance Management

I can’t believe I have to have a crucial conversation with him. 

As leaders, one of our roles is to observe employees performing in their job and provide feedback to promote continuous improvement. As we coach, we provide training and development opportunities. However, if the behavior of an employee does not change, then we must decide if the person lacks the will or the skill to perform at the expected levelThis is usually accomplished through conversations with the employee and continued observation. Really though, if a person lacks will or skill and does not change behavior after feedback, coaching and development, then they are a low performer. 

Conversations with low performers are tough for leaders. Low performers have had these conversations with leaders before. Even though they are difficult conversations, they must happen. Everyone on your team knows who the low performers are. High performers do not want to work with low performers. If we are a leader, we must address low performers to promote the best work environment for our team 

There are three important keys to ensuring that low performer conversations lead to success: 

    1. Lay the groundwork with administrative colleagues (HR/Boss) so that everyone in the administration is on the same page. 
    2. Do not begin the conversation with pleasantries. 
    3. After the initial low performer conversation with the employee, the leader must follow up relentlessly. 

Tip for Leaders  

The D.E.S.K. approach for low performer conversations provides leaders with a guide to get through difficult conversations and cut right to the chase (Studer, 2004). Take time to prepare for these conversations as they are difficult and require practice. 

What is D.E.S.K.? 

DESCRIBE what has been observed. 

EVALUATE how this effects the team and the organization. 

SHOW what needs to be done. 

KNOW and share the consequences of continued low performance. 

This is not really a conversation. Instead, it is a leader telling an employee what has occurred and will not occur again. The D.E.S.K. approach will provide steps to improvement with a monitoring plan.  

Only about eight percent of employees in any organization are low performing in their roles. And of that eight percent, most will improve or change negative behaviors after they are addressed by a leader. It is crucial to encourage low performing individuals to change their behavior through a structured approach. By simply taking the proper steps to address low performance, leaders can turn these colleagues into solid performing individuals. And though it’s hard work, the improved work environment will be better for all. 


Studer, Q. (2004). Hardwiring Excellence: Purpose, Worthwhile Work, Making a Difference. Gulf Breeze, FL: Fire Starter Publishing.
Content from How to Lead Teachers to Become Great by Drs. Janet Pilcher and Robin Largue.

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