How do I tell my employee they aren't performing, without making the situation worse?

How do I tell my employee they aren't performing, without making the situation worse?


It’s tough when you have an employee that simply isn’t cutting the mustard. 😠

But, as their boss, it’s YOUR job to manage the situation. Hoping everything will get better by itself is a flawed strategy. And actually, ignoring the issue means you’re contributing to their poor performance, by not being straight with them about your expectations.

You’re not alone if you’re going through this. Loads of small business leaders I work with, struggle to have honest conversations about performance.

Luckily for you, I’ve got some tried and tested tips to help you through. 👌

Grab a cuppa ☕ and let’s get started…


First up, let’s just remind ourselves why having honest conversations is so flippin hard – no matter how long you’ve been running a business.

It’s tough because…

  • You’re probably a nice person, who doesn’t like conflict
  • You might feel guilty that you haven’t nipped things in the bud earlier
  • You’re strapped for time
  • You’re worried it could blow up and result in an employment tribunal
  • You don’t know how to go about it


Letting poor performance slide has loads of consequences. Some are pretty darn obvious. Others, not so.

For a start, it could have a material impact on your business. For example, on your ability to make sales or keep customers happy. Also, if you’re letting poor performance go unchecked, it could cheese off 🧀 your other employees.

In my experience, poor performance is usually anchored around two things:

  1. Capability – for example, your employee is unable to hit targets, or keeps making mistakes.
  2. Behaviour – for example, your employee has a bad attitude, or comes in late.

One MEGA consequence of brushing it all under the carpet, is not being able to get rid of a poor performer. Unfair dismissal is one of the most common reasons why employees take their bosses to employment tribunals.

You can’t simply sack a person because they’re not doing what you want them to do. You need to follow a process. And that process needs to begin with you telling them that their performance isn’t good enough – and giving them the chance to turn things around.


1. Plan, plan, plan

When you have the honest conversation, and where you have it, is super important. Although I recognise that face-to-face conversations aren’t always possible.

Give your employee plenty of notice, and provide a heads-up about what you want to talk about. Call it a ‘check-in’ if you like – an opportunity to review how they’re doing and what more they need from you to do a great job. Then you’ll both have time to prep.

In terms of where you do it, make sure it’s in a place you’re unlikely to be disturbed. And try to allocate enough time, so you don’t have to rush off afterwards.

A key part of the planning, is collecting evidence. You’ve got to prove there’s a gap between what they should be doing, and what they are doing.

You also need to look in the mirror at yourself. Do you know what you want them to achieve, over and above ‘just doing better’? Has that been made clear to them in the past? Are you ready to re-iterate what you want?

It’s also worth preparing to bring positive examples of their work to the table. Nobody reacts well to only hearing negative things about themselves.

2. Facts rule, emotions don’t

Whilst you might feel MAHOOSIVELY frustrated and fed up with your employee’s performance, it’s important to push emotions to one side and instead, keep things factual.

Don’t fall into the trap of exaggerating or making sweeping statements to make your point.

Say this 👉 On the 12th when we met the client, they asked you to make the front-page titles blue, before it went to print. You didn’t make that change and now the client’s made a complaint and won’t pay for the brochures I’ve had printed. Can you explain what happened?

Don’t say this 👉 You never listen, you’re always forgetting to do things, and now the client’s probably going to go elsewhere and I’m stuck with a printing bill I can’t afford to pay.

3. Don’t make it personal

Talk about the problem, rather that the individual involved. This can be hard, as it will always feel personal to you both.

My tip is to stick to talking about how the actions are having a negative impact on the business.

But, please don’t dwell on the issue. 🙏 The whole point of having the honest conversation is to turn things around quickly and get your employee doing things right.

4. Listen up

In my experience, when business owners are apprehensive about having an honest conversation, they tend to talk too much and overstate the problem. 🗣🗣

Instead, listen carefully to what your employee has to say. Ask open questions. Look for visual cues. Be prepared to hear that YOU could be part of the problem too.

You also need to reflect on how much you know about your employee and consider what ‘normal’ performance looks like for them.

And it always helps to start from a position that most people do want to come to work and do a good job.

5. Pass the baton to your employee

Just because you’re in charge, it doesn’t mean you have to come up with all the answers. Instead, ask your employee to come up with some ideas too.

For example, ask open questions like these. 👇

💬 Going forward, how will you make sure you’ve captured the client’s requirements?

💬 From now on, how will you make sure the office is open before 9am?

6. Lead like a boss

As the boss, it’s your job to decide what the next steps are and make sure you’re both clear on what’s going to change in the future, before the chat ends.

Don’t forget to write everything up and send it out afterwards. Just in case things start to get hairy down the line – and you need to be able to demonstrate how you tried to tackle this performance issue by having an honest conversation.


After the honest conversation you’ve had with your employee, try to make on-the-spot feedback a regular thing in your business.

In other words, get into the habit of nipping things in the bud as and when they happen. That way, over time, you’ll create a culture where giving feedback is the norm.


An appraisal is the perfect time for honest conversations.

Grab my PERFORMANCE APPRAISAL TEMPLATE for super useful pointers on WHEN to do appraisals, WHAT to cover in them, and HOW to make them as effective as possible.

☎ Book a free consultation with me to see how I could help you to have those all-important honest conversations.


  • Book a free consultation with Mandy here, to learn more about us working together.

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