Welcome back to our Culture Hacker series of blogs. Today I want to talk about the importance of managers having tough conversations and making tough decisions. When it comes to a healthy and positive work culture, poor performers, especially those that do not support the company values and are not good team players, cannot be tolerated, and yet, often I will meet with organizations who allow these people to stick around.
The reasons given range from the Union, tough HR practices, or a lack of owner support. The real reasons are more about a manager’s close relationships with staff, their lack of comfort in the process, and most importantly, an unwillingness to have tough conversations and make tough decisions. Yet when there is a lack of accountability, the mindset and morale of the whole team suffers and ultimately underperforms.
Well-known speaker Peter Bromberg says, “When we avoid difficult conversations, we trade short term discomfort for long term dysfunction.” It is also the reason some of your best will decide to leave you – keep in mind that many your staff crave this accountability. Gallup’s 2017 Millennial Report revealed that nearly 6 in 10 millennials who report that their manager holds them accountable at work are engaged, and that same 6 in 10 plan to be with their current organization for at least another year. So, let’s stop the dysfunction and avoiding tough conversations.
Here are a few ideas to remember as you prepare for a tough conversation.
- Begin by thinking whether the conversation is necessary. Take the advice of Larry Boyer of Success Rockets LLC: “If you need to have a conversation that is difficult for you, start with asking yourself why you really need to have the conversation. Is it more difficult having the conversation or keeping the status quo? You have the status quo now, so why bother? When you can answer that question for yourself, you may find the conversation is not as difficult as you fear.”
- Choose a setting that is private and allows for 2-way interaction. Ensure this conversation can take place face-to-face, if possible, or over a video conference, at the very least. Remote work is becoming so much more common, but these tough talks need to be real discussions, not take place over email.
- Bring a witness if the conversation is going to be really tough.
- Begin your conversation by reinforcing the individual’s value and strengths to the team or company.
- Ask them about areas of opportunity and improvement and where they need help. Laurie Sudbrink of Unlimited Coaching Solutions says it this way: “No one likes to be confronted. Most appreciate being helped. When engaging in a conversation to help, our intent will come from a better place.”
- Indicate where you need help from them, and don’t forget to focus on specific behaviors. Bill Gardner from Noetic Outcomes Consulting, LLC suggests, “Confront behavior, not your assessment of their behavior…Ask, “What is the evidence for my inference?” and confront on that behavior.”
- Ensure there is a clear plan for improvement that can be agreed-upon, and an understood consequence or result of the poor performance. A recent study revealed that feedback without consequences isn’t effective – when feedback was used alone, it only produced consistent improvements in performance 28% of the time.
- Document the conversation.
- Finally, remember to always be respectful, yet firm. As Napoleon Bonaparte was famous for saying, “Firmness works better when employed with courtesy and manner.”
Now when there are too many tough conversations, managers must be willing to let a person go. The reality is, some employees are just better suited to be customers – especially those that do not interact well with their peers or the business.
When it comes time to letting someone go, remember the rules we just mentioned. But in addition, you need to be organized with a last check, a list of equipment to be collected, and IT teams ready to remove computer access. I recommend doing any termination meetings at the end of the day when other employees are gone. But, don’t be afraid to talk about the reasons for termination with the other employees; remembering to speak respectfully of them and explaining the termination in terms of the performance and facts not opinions or personalities.
Letting people go is never easy. But one of my favorite quotes is by ex-CEO of GE, Jack Welch, reminds us of our responsibilities as a leader. He said, “I was a gardener providing water and nourishment to our top people. Of course, I had to pull a few weeds too.” Remember – this is your responsibility too.