The Tough Conversation

You will read in this article http://ow.ly/MYyNb 6 ways to have a difficult conversation with a staff member. The article a states these are –

  1. Stick to the facts
  2. Don’t judge the person, listen to their story
  3. Allow processing time of the feedback
  4. Provide the opportunity for the staff member to solve the problem themselves
  5. Ensure there is the right support for the staff person
  6. Acknowledge improvements and progress

The ideal situation, or your Everest as a leader when it comes to relationships with staff, is that you never have the need for a difficult conversation. So if that is our vision – to never have the need for a difficult conversation with a staff member, how would we go about it?

  1. Be a consistent leader – to be consistent means that you know your values, principles, ultimately what YOU stand for. Then you live and breathe these messages. A leader may change the way that the messages are delivered due to situation, personnel, timing etc, but the underlying values and principles are still the same
  2. Clarity of expectations in the role – there should be little grey, and mostly Black and White in what you require of the person to undertake a role to the standards the business needs. So that a staff member can understand their ‘fit’ and contribution to the business, have them understand the following –
  • Why is this role important to the success of the business – create your own version of the story of the janitor when asked what his role was at NASSA, he answered, “I put rockets on the moon”
  • How will I do my job so that I do it well and to the standards expected- ensure through training, education, mentoring and regular performance management that the person has no misunderstanding of how the job is to be done. Create a learning environment that encourages everyone to have a go first, and then whether successful or not, take the learnings on how to do the job next time
  • What evidence will there be to demonstrate the staff member is on track – agree on the outcomes that should be visible, easily measured. Then in conjunction with the staff member set up a system of daily & weekly performance management so that it is encouraging the staff member to be their own best coach; ie what do they do when they perform at their best, since that is what the leader wants repeated day-in day-out.
  • Armed with the knowledge of
    • why the job is important,
    • their contribution to the end product,
    • how they do the job, and
    • what they can do to perform at their best

then the ideal state is that the empowered employee will make good decisions on behalf of the business with a result which will please employee, boss, and organisation. If the employee on the other hand does not produce the outcomes agreed, then the conversation simply moves back to the employee.

This conversation is not about blame – it is all about CHOICES.

From the leader’s viewpoint, the conversation goes something like –

Good day John C.

I have noticed recently from your performance management input and our regular feedback sessions that the results that we have agreed upon are not happening.

I know you have done all the training and upskilling for the role, and I know you have a very good understanding of the role and what is expected.

It seems for some reason(s) you have chosen not to meet what is expected of you in this role – I am keen to listen to why you have made that choice?

At this point there will be a story to which the Leader will listen without judgement apart from gauging the legitimacy of the response. If it is simply excuse riddled, then the conversation, will be –

So let me understand what you are saying here………that because of A, B, & C you were not able to perform – is that correct?

So if A, B, and C were fixed, you would be able to return to your role and deliver it to expectations

Given you are a good leader, use a good daily & weekly performance management system, and that you look to meet regularly with your staff, or at least provide feedback on a regular basis, then you will be able to quickly ascertain the legitimacy of the response.

I am puzzled by your view on A, B, and C as I know that……………….so John C, where do we go from here?

Remember it is not your problem. It is not up to you to own John C’s problem!

John C must be held to account.

John C must determine the next course of action.

John C will ‘self-dismiss’ if there is no accountability as John C is saying that the roles and expectations only apply to him at certain times. John C is a ‘conditional team player’ when conditions suit him.

At this point, John C has chosen not be part of the team. John C has ‘self-dismissed’.

Ultimately what is difficult about the so-called difficult conversations is that as leaders we –

  • are unclear on our own values, or do not stick by them in order to be liked or popular
  • have not made sure that the why, how, what is clear and in place
  • do not have an adequate and accurate performance management system
  • compound the poor performance management system with equally poor feedback in terms of quality, specificity, consistency and regularity
  • therefore procrastinate on having a meaningful conversation because we know that we are poorly prepared due to our leadership and management

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