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Resolving Performance Issues by Nurturing Relationships

A man wearing a gray suit, white shirt and blue tie, facing a man in a blue suit.

A challenge that every leader faces is how to effectively address employee performance issues while preserving critical working relationships. Even the most reliable team members can unexpectedly struggle with performance or engage in misconduct. As a manager, it's natural to react with frustration or disappointment in these moments. But leveraging healthy, trusting professional relationships can ensure that addressing these performance issues doesn’t erode confidence, trust, or engagement.

At the core of this approach is one of the 9 Principles of Employee Care: Human Relationships. By leading with listening, empathy and compassion, managers can nurture healthy, trusting relationships and allow them to get to the heart of performance problems and partner with the employee to turn the situation around.

Consider these strategies:

Start with compassion. When a performance issue arises, avoid jumping to conclusions or accusations. Schedule a one-on-one meeting and prepare by reflecting on the role this employee plays on your team when at their best. Approach the conversation as an opportunity to rediscover their talents and reconnect on a human level. Go in with an open mind and caring attitude.

Listen more than you speak. In the meeting, focus on asking questions with care and then really listening to understand, rather than lecturing or reprimanding. Resist making assumptions about the employee's motivations or character. Recognize there may be positive intent behind poor decisions. The goal is uncovering the real story behind changed behaviors or disengagement from responsibilities.

Express empathy and offer support. As you listen, put yourself in the employee's shoes. Express empathy for any personal challenges they share that may be impacting their work. Ask how you can assist them in regaining their professional footing while navigating difficult circumstances. Offer concrete support and resources. Show that you care about them as a whole person.

Renew belief in their potential. Remind the employee why you value them and the potential you see in them. Discuss realigning their role and responsibilities to once again draw on their natural strengths and abilities. Reignite their passion by demonstrating your continued belief in their capacity for success and growth.

Rebuild reliability through clear expectations. Share your vision for productively moving forward together, grounded in well-defined expectations and accountability measures. Commit to supporting their success and establish how you will track progress together. Leading by example, show steadfast follow-through on your end of the bargain to establish new trust.

Give grace through slip-ups. As the employee works to make positive changes, they may still make occasional mistakes. Extend patience and forgiveness when failures happen, while still upholding accountability. Serve as a dedicated mentor to help them develop into their best self both professionally and personally. Model learning from missteps with transparency, courage and responsibility.

Strengthen the relationship over time. Recognize that nurturing a professional relationship is an ongoing process, not a one-time intervention. Proactively check in with care, continuing to listen and provide support. Consistently demonstrate your investment in the employee's long-term success and fulfillment. Building this foundation of authentic human connection will allow you to navigate challenges together.

While formal processes like performance improvement plans have an important role, it's sincere relationships that create strong teams, deep engagement, and high levels of productivity. Even employees previously viewed as "problem people" can become the most loyal and dedicated when they feel seen, valued by leaders who believe and invest in them.

In this way, empathetic leadership and human relationships awaken discretionary effort and ultimately strengthen the entire workplace culture. When leaders commit to nurturing human relationships especially through challenges, organizations are able to tap into the full potential of their employees.


Contact us today to develop performance evaluation and improvement policies and your leadership team's skill in coaching for retention and development rather than documenting discipline for termination.



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