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Nip performance issues in the bud with this seven-step guide to counselling

by , 12 March 2015
What do you do when all informal efforts to improve an employee's performance have failed? The best action you can take is to hold a formal counselling session.

Use these seven steps below to counsel your poor performer so he can improve and grow within your business.

Seven-step counselling process

Step #1: Keep the session professional but friendly
Always start the counselling session by welcoming the employee and thanking him for coming to the meeting. Tell him you're sure you'll be able to sort out the issues you're going to discuss. When you describe the problems with his performance, be as specific as possible. Use notes and examples to point out acceptable levels of performance and show him exactly where and why his output doesn't meet those levels. Refer to the evidence you've collected. This'll help him see there's a problem.
Help the employee understand that his current level of performance isn't acceptable. Explain that if he doesn't improve, you'll have to consider parting ways with him. Point out that the issues are serious enough to warrant your specific attention, and that you need his full attention and dedication to improve.
Step #2: Ask for the employee's help to solve the problem
Make it your employee's responsibility to improve his performance! Show confidence in his ability and willingness to solve the problem by involving him in finding solutions.
Get your to employee help decide how to resolve the problem. This'll boost his self-esteem because it shows you value his ideas. Be patient and listen to his suggestions. When he realises you want to hear what he has to say, and you're discussing his ideas, you're far more likely to get his full co-operation and commitment.
Step #3: Discuss possible causes of the problem
Discuss all possible causes of the problem. Ask your employee open-ended questions that begin with words like 'how,' 'what,' 'why' and 'when' to get him to answer them from his point of view. Listen and respond with empathy, especially if he expresses concern or frustration over factors he feels he can't control.
Before discussing solutions, list the causes you've identified. Then agree on the key issues he must tackle.
Decide if there are any issues beyond his control that prevent him from performing up to standard. These issues could be: A lack of resources, work overload, inappropriate or faulty equipment, unreliable suppliers, etc.
Keep reading for the next four steps... 
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Step #4: Identify and write down possible solutions
Once you've identified the causes of the poor performance, ask the employee for his ideas on how they can be fixed. Explore the solutions to a group of similar causes. Don't just focus on one cause. List as many solution ideas as you can both come up with. If you can, use your employee's suggestions – this'll keep him committed to solving the problem and to taking responsibility for the solutions.
Step #5: Decide on specific actions you must each take
Once you've looked into possible solutions, pinpoint exactly what must be done by when. Assign responsibilities for specific actions and make a note of them. Remind your employee that your role's to support him in improving his performance. Re-iterate that the responsibility for improving rests directly with him.
Step #6: Agree on a specific follow-up meeting date
Set a date to meet again. The employee will know you're serious and are committed to seeing it through. 
He'll also know that you'll be monitoring if he's following through on the actions he agreed to. Discuss any progress or problems, and plan any other necessary actions at the follow-up meeting.
End the discussion on a friendly note. Offer encouragement and express your confidence that he'll improve. Remind him you're there to support him going forward and he can call on you if he needs help.
Step #7: Send your employee a summary of the session
Include the agreed actions and time frames as soon as possible after the meeting. Make sure you include the follow-up meeting date.
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