I was recently intrigued to overhear a manager advise another colleague that they should send their “difficult” employees to HR instead of trying to give the employee feedback themselves. Apparently that way the line manager believed he would not be seen as the “bad cop” and after all, in his opinion, that is what the HR department was there for.
Having important (and honest) conversations with subordinates remains one of the most daunting challenges for any manager. In many instances ignoring conduct or performance issues is the path of least resistance. Let’s just leave things as they are and hopefully they will fix themselves. Sound familiar?
Receiving feedback is not something many people relish or actively seek out. Great feedback has the ability to achieve better results and bring about the changes we had hoped, but equally, poorly given criticism could switch off your most engaged employees.
Confrontation is tough for most of us and opting a policy of honesty over harmony is easier said than done, especially if you have challenging individuals in your team. But failing to address issues as they occur affects the morale of your team, weakens your perception and impact as a leader and will only lead to bigger problems later on.
For employee turnarounds to be successful be mindful of the following principles:
It’s not what you say but how you say it.
People respond in kind. If you demonstrate respect and compassion, you are more likely to receive a similar response even when dealing with the most uncomfortable and confrontational situation.
Avoid inciting anger and appeal to personal pride instead.
Anger is an external response to a situation whereas personal pride (or guilt) manifests itself internally. When people feel guilty they look inward and tend to assume responsibility for the situation. Allowing people to assume responsibility for their actions will pierce their heart and they are more likely to want to change things for themselves. Embarrassing or challenging individuals publicly will only lead to more resistance.
Treat people as you want to be treated.
Remember that people join companies but leave managers. If you fail to respect the people who work for you, hesitate to share information or communicate with them, other job opportunities will become more attractive. Remember the difference between an active and passive job seeker is a bad day at the office.
Honesty over harmony.
I understand that from an HR ivory tower this is easier said that done. But honesty remains the best policy for leaders. Feedback does not need to be confrontational for it to be effective. Speaking to people respectfully and minding your tone will go a long way in getting their attention.
Matter of perception.
It is likely that the individual receiving feedback may have a very different perception to that of the manager. Perception is not right or wrong, it simply is the way things are regarded by somebody. Getting individuals to wear the other shoe and see things from another perspective is powerful in changing behaviour.
In parting, this quote by Jim Goodnight, CEO of SAS, summarises what I believe all managers and leaders should focus on – “ninety five percent of my assets drive out the front gate every evening. It’s my job to bring them back”.