Discussing poor performance in one-on-one meetings

Discussing poor performance in one-on-one meetings

Discussing poor performance in one-on-one meetings may be daunting. Yet, if you care about your employee’s progress, development and well-being as much as you care for your company’s success, then you’ll need to have that talk, in person. Besides, this will define their future in the company. So, what is the best way to approach an employee that has lately been performing poorly?

To get there, you’ll first need to better understand what makes people perform below par.  

What is it that leads an employee into performing below par?

As we have previously discussed here, on our blog, when poor performance affects your employees at scale, it’s probably a symptom of job-related issues that require immediate resolution. Resources that are no longer sufficient, management and culture weaknesses that may get in the way, unexpected increased workload that burdens your people are only some of them.

In a similar fashion, when you notice that an individual is falling short in their usual performance standards, you probably need to scout further and find the “why’s” behind their failing. More often than not, that person may be dealing with personal or family issues that get in the way. Similarly, it may be these aforementioned workplace issues that are having an impact on that person. Be they actual issues only affecting that person or not, as a manager you need to listen carefully. And, remember that people absorb or interpret things in different ways.  So, the only way to find out what lies behind their discouraging performance is through your one-on-one meetings.

The role of one-on-one meetings in dealing with poor performance

What makes one-on-one meetings that critical, when it comes to performance issues? This is a question you may have in mind if you’re a first-time manager. Or if you have not yet managed to deal with said issues with confidence. Learning the ropes of people’s management will help you better understand that this type of meeting is probably the most important you’ll have with your employees. 

These face-to-face chats help uncover potential problems and issues you’ve probably already taken notice of; and, also, unearth concerns and difficulties they may be dealing with unbeknownst to you. And it’s the informal format and the routine cadence of these meetings that helps build bridges of trust between you and your employees. 

This time, dedicated to private conversations with each one of your employees, is the best way to initiate a discussion on poor performance. You don’t want to make them feel uncomfortable by bringing up the subject during a team meeting. Neither should you let it get amplified by delaying it.

Making the most out of your poor performance discussion

Below we’ll have a look at the things you should have in mind when your one-on-one meetings are focused on dealing with poor performance. We’ll have a quick overview of the things you should do and things to avoid, so that you make these discussions more helpful; and, then, we’ll go through a list of steps to structure your initial discussion with them. Keep reading:


  • Start and end the conversation on a positive note
  • Make it your priority to ask for feedback on whatever you’re sharing with your employee, throughout your discussion with them. This will help make sure you share the same understanding.
  • Try to give accurate and clear feedback on your part 
  • Make sure your employee retains the ownership of the solution to the problem they’re facing 
  • Rather than telling them what to do, try to solicit their buy-in. That’s the key for building a responsibility-based culture and improving performance.


  • Don’t make the conversation way too early; i.e. the moment your employee seems to fall short of their usual standards. Performance is not static.
  • Neither should you play for time in the hope that you’ll get more prepared for it. Difficult as such conversations may be, you should strike while the iron is hot. So, when you take notice of an undesirable pattern in an employee’s performance, just schedule that talk.
  • Stay away from using a punishing tone i.e. saying things in a schoolish authority style. 
  • Don’t make any assumptions regarding the reasons that make your employee perform poorly. Put another way, you shouldn’t direct discussion towards the things you may have in mind; let them tell you instead. 

Now as for the structure of the meetings, here are a few steps you may follow:  

  1. Open the discussion in a friendly tone and explain the reason for your one-on-one meeting. 
  2. Share your concerns regarding their poor performance, justified by your observations and the impact they have on the team as a whole. 
  3. Give them “time and space” to share their perspective and the problems they may be facing.
  4. Work together to prepare an action plan you’ll both follow, setting task priorities for them and ways to help them further.  
  5. Agree on scheduling a meeting plan, so that they’ll get the chance to request support or share their updates. On your part you’ll be able to monitor progress and share your praise. 
  6. Make it clear that the company and you still consider this team member to be a valued person and a capable employee; and express your confidence that they’ll be able to rebound. 

Final thoughts 

Discussing poor performance with an employee that has been performing below standard, is a challenging task for a manager. The goal of the first poor performance conversation is to, first of all, unearth issues the team member has been dealing with for a long time; which, of course, led to these results. That first discussion will set the tone for the one-on-one performance-oriented meetings that will follow. As a rule of thumb, when dealing with such cases, try to empathize with your team members. See things through their lens. This will help you jointly come up with actionable outcomes that will help them gradually rebound.