Most managers have had this happen… a good employee seems to lose her enthusiasm. She tends to do just enough to “get by” – work is completely adequately and basically on time, but not to level she used to do.

Perhaps you consider there might be a personal reason causing this change, you hope this is just temporary, or you are just too busy to address right now. But then the employee’s performance starts to drop even more.  You ask when a late task will be completed and get a curt response.

The employee starts to avoid you and you begin to treat her with impatience and frustration.  You “walk on eggshells” around the employee and don’t know what you can say or do to make a change in this worsening dynamic.

Without addressing this issue directly with the employee – you have been there— it is unlikely things will get better. Often the relationship between you two deteriorates even more.

But how should you approach this now delicate situation? The solution—you know this, too—is that you must have a personal meeting with this employee.

We just had a client that had a very similar situation.

His manager careful considered the key performance issues and made a short list of clear desired behavior changes. After a one hour meeting, this employee is back on track. His response to the manager was “just tell me what I need to do and I will do it.”

Did it work? YES! For the two months since this meeting, he has improved his attitude, focused on results, and reached the agreed upon targets every week!

Here are a few tips to have this meeting to clear the air and re-engage the employee, if this is possible:

  • Prepare what you want to say and write it down (and keep it brief)
  • Don’t blame, make judgments or assume motivation
  • Focus on a few key incidents (one or two issues)
  • Explain the impact of the employee’s behavior on job performance and others
  • Wait for employee’s explanation and response– spend 75% of the meeting listening and ask open ended questions
  • Empathize with their situation
  • Describe the changes required by the employee
  • Get agreement from the employee to make the expected changes (with a time)
  • End on a positive message, express confidence in the employee’s ability to make the changes
  • Remember the military leadership guideline (4p’s)- Praise in public, pound in private
  • Follow up with employee at agreed upon time—praise efforts to improve and/or reinforce need for required changes (if employee has not corrected performance issues)

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti at