Performance Counseling Activities

Directions to LeadershipObjective: Conduct a performance counseling session.

Note: Before performing this activity, perform the Performance Counseling Activity (part 2).

Procedure: Break the class into groups of three (triads). Each learner within the groups will rotate through these three roles:

There are five role-play exercises listed below. Each learner within a group will practice each role in every activity. For example, in exercise one, the first learner will be the supervisor, the second will be the employee, and the third will be the facilitator or coach.

After completing the exercise, they will rotate roles and repeat exercise one. This process will be repeated a third time so that they all get to role play the supervisor, employee, and facilitator in exercise one.

Once each learner has played all three roles in exercise one, the group will then move on to exercise two, and repeat the process. They will then continue to exercise three, four, and then five by using the same procedure.

It is important that each learner performs at least the role of supervisor (counselor) in each exercise as they build upon each other and this is the main goal of the activities — to become an effective performance counselor in a leadership position.

Allowing each learner to perform all three roles has several advantages. Each learner gets to:

Exercise One

Most of your counseling sessions will be relative easy. A employee breaks a rule, such as being late or does not meet a performance standard, such as not completing a task correctly. The majority of employees try to follow the rules and exceed the standards. But, like you, they are human and make mistakes. The main reason for conducting these counseling sessions is to get them documented. Then, if their performance begins to deteriorate, you have it on record so that you can legally and morally take the appropriate disciplinary action.


Sally has been an excellent employee who has not required any performance counseling up to this point. But, when you review the time sheets for yesterday, you notice she clocked out 15 minutes early. You check your records and there is no record for a request to leave early. Using the following guide, conduct a counseling session:

Exercise Two

Tom has been a valued employee for you for the last 18 months. But, when you review the production report for last week, you discover that he was not up to standards for both Thursday and Friday. The standard is to assemble an average of at least 12 kits per hour. For Thursday, his average was 10 kits per hour and for Friday, it was 11 kits per hour. You check the schedule and note that he was not away from the assembly line for training, meetings, etc.

Using the following guide, conduct a performance counseling session:

Exercise Three

Susan has worked in the company for three years and has been a very good employee. But, she has been late for the last three project meetings. This has caused the meetings to run late, since she brings some critical decision making information and she has to be brought up to date. The first time, you let the incident go by, while the second time you explained the situation to her.

Using what you have learned, conduct a performance counseling session. The only difference is, you want to use a more non-directive approach by having Susan make a firm commitment to correcting her behavior. For example, “Susan, this behavior is very disruptive to the department. What are you going to do to correct it?”

Exercise Four

The next two exercises are more difficult than the previous three. In the last three exercises, the employees knew they made mistakes, took the counseling in stride, and moved on. In this one, the employee is walking on an extremely thin line. His performance has extremely disintegrated and he is about ready to get fired.


Sam has been an excellent employee since he started working in your department two years ago. However, in the last few weeks, he has not been performing up to standards:

Today he was late for the fourth time. You have called him into your office for a performance counseling meeting.

1. Start the meeting
First, start by being firm and confident. For example:
“Sam, I have called you in because there is a problem, and quite frankly the problem involves you. I have been going through the documentation on your performance over the last few weeks. Sam, you know that today is the fourth time you have been late and your production standards have not been up to standards. Recently it was report to me that you have not been getting along with your coworkers. Your unacceptable performance cannot continue. We are here to find out what you are going to do about it.” (notice it is not our problem)

2. Use your power base
Your Power Base is in the documentation that you have built from the previous counseling sessions. Go directly to your power base and begin to lay it out.

This is the first time Sam has the opportunity to manipulate the meeting. Sam tries to interrupt by making a excuse why he was late today, such as:
“My car had a dead battery this morning and my neighbor had to help me jump start it.”

Do not let this occur. If the employee tries to interrupt, stop him. For example:
“Excuse me Sam, I want to give you the opportunity to respond, but I feel it is important for you to see the entire picture. Once I lay out the pattern of your deterioration over the past few weeks, then I certainly want to hear from you.”

Be objective and specific. Avoid you always and you never traps. Remember if you have a problem but cannot describe it in measurable terms, you do not have a problem, you just think you do.

Show and explain to Sam the following documentation:

3. When in doubt, return to the facts
Sam becomes very defensive, examples:
“I cannot meet my production goals because the other workers are getting in my way!” or “I been having car trouble!”

In spite of efforts to remain in control, you might feel you are being backed into a corner, you take on the defensive, you feel your emotions taking over, or you are about to loose control. If any of these happen, simply return to the facts. For example:
“Sam, you may feel that is important to the meeting, but the primary issue is...” Get back to your documentation in order to show a pattern, that is your Power Base.

4. Move to Closure
After the documentation and the issues have been covered, move to closure. This requires three issues to be addressed, you want the employee to own the problem, the reason for the decline in performance, and is it a personal problem.

First, get the employee to own the problem, for example:
“ Do you understand the problem I have just addressed?”
This requires the subjective employee to become objective, for example:
“Yes, I understand the problem as you have described it”

Next, ask for the reason the performance has been poor, for example:
“What is the reason for your decline in performance?”
You will probably not get a good reason; you might only get a shrug, for example:
“I don't know.”
Do not worry about the answer unless it is really explained to you. What you are doing is reemphasizing the pattern of poor performance.

If the employee did not explain to you in the step above, then you want to show concern about the problem, for example:
“Is there a personal problem causing your performance to deteriorate?” do not wait for a response, continue by saying, “Because if there is, we have assistance counselors and programs that can help.”
You might get a negative response to this question also. However, by asking this question, you show the employee your concern about the problems underlying the poor performance.

Sam replies that he does not have any personal problems; he has just been having a string of bad luck.

5. Commitment
Now it is time to apply the Principle of Pain. This is a process in which people with a performance problem must make a choice between keeping their disruptive behavioral pattern or keeping their job. The pain of losing their job may be the pain that is necessary to make the choice. For example:
“Sam, whatever the problem is that is causing your performance to deteriorate; there is help if you want to deal with it. I want you to know that we value your potential and that you have a job if you want to deal with your personal issues. However, if there is no problem or you choose not to ask for help then you leave me no choice other than to fire you strictly for your unacceptable performance problem. What is your choice?”

You may ask if the employee wishes to speak confidentially with a counselor, or you may wish to force the issue by silently waiting for an answer. If the employee asks for time to think it over, then give it, but no more than one or two hours.

Always couple your offer of help with a firm and precise outline of the performance based consequences should the employee deny a problem exists.

Exercise Five

Judy started working for you three months ago. Since that time, you have counseled her on the following:

Today, she left for her 15-minute break and was gone for 25 minutes.

Using the following guide, conduct a performance counseling session:

Next Steps

Learning the basics of Performance Counseling (part 1)

This activity is used in conjunction with the chapter on Leadership and Motivation

Return to the Leadership Training and Development Outline