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How to Have Difficult Conversations with Underperforming Employees in Retail and Hospitality

Monday February 22nd, 2021

Estimated time to read: 2 minutes


Addressing concerns with underperforming employees has always been difficult, but these conversations need to be approached even more cautiously (and strategically) when workforces are already feeling unstable as a result of the pandemic. Especially in industries that have been hit particularly hard, like retail and hospitality.

Many businesses are turning to technology for assistance in conducting performance-related conversations, with research finding that 32 percent of human resources (HR) leaders plan to invest in performance review tech this year. With the right tools, HR and management teams have access to the data and workflows needed to create communication plans that are personalized to individual employees. While some people respond best to positive reinforcement and mentorship; some just need a stern warning or a strict quota. 

Read below for a few tips that can help HR and management teams strike the perfect balance to ensure reviews don’t cause undue harm to professional development or morale.

Show the Data

Perhaps more than employees realize, performance measurement is pretty cut and dry. Lagging behind other colleagues, underdelivering on quotas and poor customer service are clear indicators of a quantifiable issue.

When talking with underperformers, be upfront with these metrics: the more visual, the better. Don’t hesitate to share customer feedback, productivity statistics or any other information that ties directly to performance. Keeping the conversation centered on these data points helps employees understand what needs to be improved upon and why.

Ask Questions 

Since a negative performance review can make employees feel attacked, disgruntled or unmotivated, try to make the review a two-way conversation.

Instead of saying “I need you to do X better,” ask “What can I do right now to help you with this task?”

Similarly, if an employee brings up a recurring issue they’re encountering (maybe a difficult colleague or a gargantuan workload), ask them what specific items they need support with in as much detail as possible. 

As you get concrete direction from employees, you can step in where necessary to provide support and create better processes. This not only allows you to keep employees accountable but can also help promote efficiencies for specific tasks.

Be Genuine 

Based on the personality of the employee you’re approaching, the conversation can quickly veer off course. To some degree, employees need space to defend themselves and to shed light on issues that may be impacting their work. You don’t need to fish for this information; just be cognizant of it when it occurs and respond with compassion. 

In some cases, employees might be better suited for different roles or more productive within certain teams. Assess whether you’re able to meet these terms as part of working collaboratively with employees to boost performance. 

Discuss Goals

Don’t restrict everything you learned in the performance meeting to the confines of your notepad. Regularly check in with employees to monitor their progress, decide on additional courses of action and provide follow-up feedback. It is especially important to stay connected after addressing performance concerns. After all, employees shouldn’t feel they’re left on their own to significantly change their performance. They need manager involvement as well.

Set up recurring check-ins, revise employee benchmarks and continue conversations around future career tracks. As performance turns around, each party should be totally aligned on next steps and how to parlay improvement into a long, successful tenure with the company.


Discover more tips for improving performance reviews by downloading this infographic.

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