The Elephant in the Room (A Performance Review Conundrum)

This was a question posted as a reply to the post Make Performance Reviews Meaningful. If you have questions of your own, feel free to reply to any post or submit your question on our Ask Anything page.

One big question though: what do you do in the big reviews if an employee has had a serious problem throughout the year, and discussions in one-on-ones has not resulted in enough improvement? It feels like an elephant in the room but I’m not sure how to approach the topic.

To clarify, I don’t mean an employee who has done nothing good worth talking about, but someone who has a major problem that is overshadowing their accomplishments and needs to be fixed if they want to stay with the company.

One the one hand, some effort has been made and I do want to acknowledge that. Furthermore, I agree that if you mention one negative, it can overshadow the positive. On the other…things are still not OK, and I feel like it’s dishonest to ignore that fact.

Any thoughts?


The situation you bring up is a tricky one so I’ll provide a couple of suggestions. I’m assuming you are the manager of the person so I would start with asking yourself a question:

Does the role/position they are in match their passion or purpose?

If you can’t answer that question, perhaps you can spend some of your conversation time probing with a few powerful questions about what motivates them, what are their hobbies outside of work, or what are their dreams and aspirations. This may take some time but I would continue until you can answer this question.

If the answer is no, it’s best to work with the person to guide them to another role better suited for them. Ideally, based on your previous conversations about their passion or purpose, they have come to this conclusion themselves but ultimately this may need to be an “off-the-record” conversation. Something like, “Hey, based on our conversations I’m getting the sense that this really isn’t the role for you. Am I reading this right?” Hopefully, they will agree and you can work together to figure out a time-boxed approach to moving them to another position or team (in or outside your company.)

If the answer is yes, meaning they are passionate about what they are doing, then it may come down to the “major problem” you mentioned.

If the major problem is socially based, there is a consistent pattern of not getting along with other team mates or is rude or disrespectful, etc., then I would follow the steps in the post It Only Take One. This would require some tough conversations so I would get HR involved.

If the major problem is competency/skill based, first make sure they have a clear understanding of what is expected of them (if you haven’t already). Here is the example of what I have done in the past for Scrum Masters. Once this is clearly spelled out, honest, compassionate, frequent and as real-time as possible feedback is expected of you. This wouldn’t wait for the performance review at the end of the year but daily (if necessary) conversation.  If there isn’t improvement and they are not going to leave the company on their own, I would suggest starting the HR process to move him/her out of the organization.

I empathize with your position and I hope this helps. Feel free to email me directly if you would like to discuss this situation in greater detail.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Leave a Reply

One thought on “The Elephant in the Room (A Performance Review Conundrum)