Initiate a Conversation that Improves Employee Performance

Janet Pilcher

In Brief

3-Minute Read

Within educational institutions leaders observe employee performance and provide feedback that promotes the development of individual leadership skills. However, not all employees are willing to change their behavior. In some cases, a person may lack the skill to perform at the expected level. It is also possible the employee is a low performer who refuses to change even with feedback, coaching and development.

Key Takeaways

  • Improving employee performance requires the development of the necessary leadership skills.

  • Low performers reduce team morale and hold the institution back from achieving organizational alignment.

  • Transform low performers into contributors using consistent leadership practices alongside a plan to monitor progress.

Employee Communication: Addressing Low Performers

Developing the leadership skills to hold performance conversations within educational institutions is a must do. Conversations with low performers are challenging at times. It’s likely that this isn’t the first time the low performer has had a similar conversation. Everyone on the team knows who the low performers are. High performers do not want to work with low performers and expect leaders to act accordingly. Low performance must be addressed to increase organizational alignment and create the best education environment.

There are three keys to ensuring that low performer conversations lead to success:

Lay the groundwork with human resources so that everyone is on the same page.

Do not begin the conversation with pleasantries.

After the initial low performer conversation with the employee, follow up relentlessly.

What is DESK?

The D.E.S.K. approach for low performer conversations provides a guide to get through difficult conversations and cut right to the chase. Take time to prepare for these conversations as they are difficult and require practice. Improving performance requires consistency of leadership practices across the institution. This is not really a conversation. Instead, it is a leader telling an employee what has occurred and will not occur again. The D.E.S.K. approach will provide steps to improvement with a plan to monitor progress.

DESCRIBE what has been observed.

EVALUATE how this effects the team and the organization.

SHOW what needs to be done.

KNOW and share the consequences of continued low performance.

How Does DESK Work?

Only about eight percent of employees in any institution are low performing in their roles. And of that eight percent, most will improve or change negative behaviors after being addressed by a leader. It is crucial to encourage low performing individuals to change their behavior through a structured approach. By simply taking the proper steps to address low performance, school leaders can turn these employees into solid contributors. Although it’s hard work, the improved education environment will be better for all.


To improve performance and develop individual leadership skills within education institutions leaders must
  • Think differently.
    Recognize that performance conversations are necessary to achieve organizational alignment.
  • Plan differently.
    Low performers have likely been in this situation before. Come to the conversation prepared with a performance improvement plan and progress monitoring schedule.
  • Act differently.
    Establish a consistent practice for conducting performance improvement conversations and follow through with the stated consequences of continued low performance.

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