There’s no way of getting around it: as a manager, there will be unpleasant situations that you personally have to deal with. As much as everyone wants to be the boss that’s the buddy, the boss that’s cool and the boss who’s a friend, at  the end of the day the manager is where the buck stops and so needs to take responsibility for what’s going on if there are team members not meeting their goals.

That said, just because the situation isn’t pleasant, doesn’t mean you have to come out of the conversation looking like the bad guy. There are ways to nudge employees back on track that allow you to take on a mentor role that benefits everyone.

Take, for example, the case of an employee not meeting their goals. You may be worrying about having to come down hard on the team member, especially if you have an otherwise cordial relationship. Though you might think you need to confront them directly, often a softer approach can yield better results.

sales goalsSit down with your employee and ask them to rate their own performance. Have a frank conversation where they point out their strengths and weaknesses. It is critical during this exchange that you ask specific questions that will lead to the areas you want them to improve in, such as meeting their sales goals. You can also provide them with data to help them with their self-evaluation. This way, they feel more certain about their assessment because they aren’t guessing in the dark based on how they feel.

For many employees, taking a step back and looking at their performance this way is enough to bring them to the conclusion you’re hoping for. Sometimes they’ll know right away what they need to do to fix performance issues. If not, brainstorm some solutions with them. Write down a concrete plan so they can leave both with the confidence of knowing their next steps as well as accountability for their future moves.

Now, there will be cases that even when confronted with data the employee in question will have an insufficiently rosy view of their own success. In these cases, you will need to come down a little harder, and point out the particular areas where the employee comes up short. Remind them of their goals–not their sales goals, but the original goals they had when they joined your team. Help them reframe their experience within the business, guiding them to a sense of renewed purpose and passion for their work. As with the other case, make sure they leave the encounter with a detailed plan in place.

There are a few keys to using these approaches for a successful outcome. The first is to know your employees well enough to know that this kind of conversation, regardless of the script you use, will be successful. You don’t want to spend hours in conference with an employee who’ll say exactly what they think you want to hear so they can leave and continue doing what they want to do anyway. In those case, a less delicate approach might be needed.

Additionally, it is important that when you sit down for these meetings you suspend your judgment at the door. Yes, you know the outcome you want and should lead in that direction, but you need to really allow the employee to express how they feel they’re measuring up and what challenges they have. They may surprise you and lead you to conclusions you hadn’t considered earlier. It may be that their workload is unbalanced or their workplace conditions insufficient. So give your team member time and space to really work through their performance, instead of jumping to the plan. This way, everyone wins.

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