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THE 14 QUESTIONS TO ASK AN UNDERPERFORMING EMPLOYEE



Ask these questions to look inward.

You’re trying to figure out: “How have I been letting this person down? How have I been getting in the way?”

  • Is it clear what needs to get done? How can I make the goals or expectations clearer?

  • Is the level of quality that’s required for this work clear? What examples or details can I provide to clarify the level of quality that’s needed?

  • Am I being respectful of the amount of time you have to accomplish something? Can I be doing a better job of protecting your time?

  • Do you feel you’re being set up to fail in any way? Are my expectations realistic? What am I asking that we should adjust so it’s more reasonable?

  • Do you have the tools and resources to do your job well?

  • Have I given you enough context about why this work is important, who the work is for, or any other information that is crucial to do your job well?

  • What’s irked you or rubbed you the wrong way about my management style? Does my tone come off the wrong way? Do I follow-up too frequently with you, not giving you space to breathe?

Ask these questions to look outward.

You’re trying to figure out: “What on the employee’s end is limiting them? What choices or capabilities of their own are keeping them from the results you want to see?”

  • How have you been feeling about your own performance lately? Where do you see opportunities to improve, if any?

  • What are you most enjoying about the work you’re doing? What part of the work is inspiring, motivating, and energizing, if any?

  • What part of the work do you feel stuck? What have you been trying the “crack the nut” on, but it feels like you’re banging your head?

  • What part of the work is “meh”? What tasks have you felt bored or ambivalent about?

  • When’s the last time you got to talk to or connect with a customer who benefited from the work you did? Would you like more opportunities to do that, and should make that happen?

  • Do you feel you’re playing to your strengths in your role? Where do you feel like there is a steep learning curve for you?

  • Would you say you’re feeling optimistic, pessimistic or somewhere in the middle about the company’s future?

You’ll notice that none of these questions ask, “What do you think you’re doing wrong?” or “What do you think I’m doing wrong?” The point of these questions is not to end up in an accusatory place, either way. Your goal is to reach a place of better understanding.

By approaching the conversation with an underperforming employee with questions to ask, rather than answers or directives to insert, you create space for that employee to want to do something different. To actually change and improve.

That change, that improvement, is the goal, after all.


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