Performance Issues

Performance Issues at Work: Ignore, Confront, or Discuss?

Substandard Work

What do you do when you have an employee with good potential — and some performance issues?  You have mentioned the issues to him briefly, and he became surprisingly defensive.  Should you not worry about it right now, giving him time to grow?  Confront him sternly and tell him this behavior is not acceptable?  Some other approach? We’ll explore 3 ways of handling this, and the pros and cons of each.

The Situation

You are a brand manager for a successful pharmaceuticals manufacturer. You recently hired a bright young assistant brand manager, Carter.

He is only two years out of college and has a résumé that shows he is impressive and has fresh, solid ideas. You offer him opportunities to show his initiative and to grow. He has come through with some creative ideas.  However, there is just one thing…

Performance Issues at Work­

Carter is short on attention to details. He forgets to call his vendors in a timely way and as a result, his projects incur express charges needlessly. He doesn’t keep colleagues sufficiently in the loop. He neglects to follow up on emails.

No doubt he could be a star in your company someday, but right now he is creating some ill will and wasting money.

Defensive Behavior

You mention your concerns to him in a casual way and are surprised by how defensive Carter becomes.  He throws others under the bus for his own shortcomings. “I can’t think of everything!” he complains. He suggests that others can fill in the mundane details his is missing.

Address the Problem

You decide a formal performance meeting is in order. Since Carter has potential as a future leader, you are trying to decide how to best address the problem with someone of his promise:

A.   He needs a shock of reality in the business world — his ego brought into check. After living in a bubble before coming to your company, it’s for his own good to be taken down a peg. You will be candid in listing his problem areas and offer a plan for how he must improve.

B.   Don’t challenge his ego at this point but try to show him it’s in his own best interest to work on his performance issues as they apply to working at your company.

C.   When someone has special talents, it’s best to give that person space. There’s truth to what Carter says. You can work around his lack of attention to detail. He’ll grow into it. Did they nag Thomas Edison to turn in his time sheets promptly or just let him fly high?

What should you do?

Select the response you think is best and we’ll share the Q4 answer.

Pointing Out His Problem Areas and How He Needs to Improve

Choice A is not a wise course if you want to encourage the exceptional qualities of this high potential performer while discouraging unproductive behavior. Many older managers may especially feel that when they started their careers, they had to do everything to please their bosses and toe the line.


Well, speaking of getting a dose of the “real world,” young employees today tend to be more confident and have strong egos. As we saw, it’s easy for Carter to become defensive. This action will just lower his receptivity.


From a Q4 coaching standpoint, if you want any of your help to sink in, this isn’t the time to cut Carter off at the knees. You may lose the best of him at the same time.


Try again to find the Q4 answer.

Showing What’s in it for him to Address his Performance Issues

Choice B is the best course. As was discussed above for Choice A, Q4 coaching involves probing Carter to discuss his role in the company and interacting with others. The idea is to work with him through self-discovery, evoking benefits and consequence for his actions. This can be accomplished by appealing to his own self-interest. Help him to discover that his own advancement and ability to flourish will be helped by improving his communication skills and interacting effectively with colleagues.


For a while, this may involve scheduling more frequent checkpoint meetings in which Carter develops some actionable goals to improve this area of performance. Then, at subsequent meetings, these goals can be reviewed to chart improvement.

Giving him Space to Grow

Choice C is untenable, Thomas Edison notwithstanding. Q4 leadership doesn’t walk away from problems, and Carter’s type of behavior does not self-correct. While it’s true that you should nurture an environment that encourages original thinking and new ideas, if Carter’s behavior isn’t addressed at all, he will continue to cost the company money needlessly. And soon enough, resentful colleagues may make it difficult for him to accomplish his goals.


Try again to find the Q4 answer.

Beyond Performance Issues

Congratulations.  You now know some of the ins and outs regarding whether and how to deal with performance issues.  What is next? 

If you would like to learn more leadership concepts, check out our Learning for Leadership page.  You’ll find 40 more leadership tips, white papers, and more. 

Do you work with a difficult person?  Our behavior questionnaire will give you actionable tips on how to handle your situation adroitly. 

If you are ready to further develop your leadership skills and put them into action, our leadership development page offers several tools.  You’ll find our leadership workshop, available virtually or in the classroom, 360 surveys, individualized leadership coaching, and more. 

Finally, be sure to sign up for our leadership newsletter to keep abreast of upcoming events, new content, and more. 

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