Here's what to ask a poor performer on your payroll.
Your performance has slipped. Is something wrong? A normally dependable employee who suddenly seems checked out may be distracted by something in his personal life--a new baby, a sick parent. Of course, he doesn't have to tell you about it, but you want to show you care and are willing to help. If he says he's going through a rough patch and needs to scale back his hours temporarily, don't pry for details but try to be accommodating.
Can you describe your job to me? If your sales guy thinks he's supposed to sell to existing clients but you want him to bring in new business, you've done a poor job explaining your expectations, says Amy DelPo, co-author of Dealing With Problem Employees. Replace vague management jargon like "self-starter" in job descriptions with specific goals, such as landing five new customers a quarter. That will make it easier for people to understand their roles.
Do you have what you need to do your job? There could be an easy fix. Your project manager might not be able to answer urgent e-mails from customers because he's on the road all day and doesn't have a BlackBerry. Or maybe your foreman keeps missing deadlines because of late shipments from a supplier.
Are you adequately trained? Promoting a talented employee may make you feel like a good boss, but your newly minted manager may have no clue how to run her 10-person department. Get her in a training workshop or provide some one-on-one coaching.
Is something at work preventing you from doing a good job? Changes to an employee's work situation can sour performance. Maybe your usually reliable bookkeeper can't get her work done because she's distracted by a staffer in the next cubicle who's always on the phone with clients. A new supervisor can trigger problems, too. If the same complaint surfaces from several people in one department, it's time to have a chat with the manager.
When was the last time we had a performance review? This is more a question for you, but it needs to be asked. If the answer is never or you can't remember, it's overdue. Appraisals are the best way to deal with problems before they get out of control. Do it once a year, with periodic check-ins if you think someone's performance is slipping.