Have you ever avoided a conversation with an employee because you were too uncomfortable bringing it up? Customer service issues, attendance, hygiene, poor work quality, lack of teamwork… if an employee’s performance is a problem, it needs to be addressed when the behavior is first noticed. There are many reasons why managers neglect to do this:
• We are afraid of what might happen if we talk about it. What if the employee cries or shouts?
• It’s easier to put off today what we can do tomorrow. We secretly hope the issue will just go away.
• We tell ourselves we don’t have time. But honestly, how much time will it cost you if you avoid the issue
until it blows up?
• We don’t know how to go about having the conversation. After all, they don’t really teach us the fine art of
conversation or confrontation in school.
• It’s no fun. Why do things that could be painful?
There’s always a good excuse for avoiding a performance conversation. But why manage by excuses when you could just address the issue and move along?
Here are some conversation suggestions:
• Focus on desired outcomes, identified skill gaps, and end results. When feedback is framed as a means to an end, it becomes an opportunity to solve a problem rather than criticize a person. Frame the feedback around something that is critical to the organization.
• Don’t be a know it all. Remember: there are at least two sides to every story. Even if you think you know the facts, you might not have the complete story. Approach conversations with the goal of getting a complete and accurate picture, which includes the employee’s perspective. Be willing to listen and be influenced by what you hear.
• Give feedback quickly, frequently, and regularly. Feedback works when it is an ongoing activity rather than a formal event with the door closed. The more you offer it, formally and informally, as part of your daily management routine, the more “feedback-friendly” your work environment becomes.
• Feedback is not a “one and done” deal. Just because you had a discussion with an employee about their performance doesn’t mean the conversation is over. Your employee’s ability to improve their behavior may require ongoing support. Following up is vital. If you don’t follow up, employees may just “wait you out” until you raise the issue (and the stakes) again.
Most importantly, the definition of a painless performance conversation is that it is a conversation with a person you care about concerning an issue you are concerned with where the outcome is uncertain and the situation requires your influence.