Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

by : 
Kim Perkins
April 1, 2014

Question: I have an annual performance review scheduled for next week with an employee who has been with our company for two years and is just not working out as well as I would like. He is nice enough and is an effective salesperson, but he has some workplace performance flaws we talked about last year that have not improved. I have pointed them out to him and feel like I am nagging. What can I do to reach him and stop dreading a confrontation?

Answer: Employee workplace performance shortcomings are never easy to deal with, but addressing them is a necessary part of a healthy business. You didn’t mention specific areas he needs to improve, but one approach is to deliver your message in a positive way. You mention you feel as if you are “nagging.” To avoid that, ask for the changes you need instead of pointing out the behavior you don’t want. For instance, if he is late to work, rather than saying, “You are always late,” tell him, “You need to be on time every day.” Or, instead of saying, “You are too picky,” tell him, “You need to distinguish between what is important and what is not important on the job.” By stating what you need him to do, rather than highlighting the behavior you don’t like, you are pointing out the problem and giving him the way to fix it at the same time.

Since these behaviors were pointed out last year and have not yet improved, I also would set a specific probationary time period (30 days, 60 days). Let him know if you don’t see vast improvement within that time frame, you will assume he is unwilling or unable to change, and you will have no choice but to let him go. Be sure to mention the things he is doing right and assure him you want him to stay (if that is true). Ask him what you can do to help him make the changes necessary to stay in your employ. Explain that you are not going to nag or lecture (and then be sure not to!) and set a day and time the two of you will meet at the end of the probationary period to review his performance.

Kim Perkins is co-owner of Elysian Fields Books & Gifts for Conscious Living (, an award-winning store in Sarasota, Fla. Send your retail questions to