I recently wrote a Forbes article about the importance of setting up your business and employees for success. But a challenge to this is when employees are not performing up to expectations. In this article, I would like to help all of you address feedback in a more in-depth manner.
Having difficult conversations is not easy; that’s why they’re called difficult conversations. I have never met anyone who has told me they like having these types of conversations. They can make you anxious and even lose sleep, despite it being part of your role as a leader.
Some leaders assume (or hope) the issue will go away on its own, or, sometimes, leaders wait until the very last minute to address their concerns. But if you take this approach, you’re only prolonging the situation, especially if the employee doesn’t know they need to improve. And if the employee does know or it’s a follow-up conversation, then you are also providing a disservice to your employee by delaying the process.
But it does get easier when you are able to wrap your head around the fact that you are helping people by addressing things respectfully and efficiently. Let’s dive deeper into providing feedback:
These conversations are time-sensitive.
I recommend having difficult conversations within 24 to 48 hours of concerns arising. The longer they are delayed, the more excuses a leader and even an employee can come up with. Facts can be forgotten, rumors might be started and new issues might even arise before you get the chance to address the original problem at all.
Being time sensitive also means that you need to think of the time of day and day of the week. Depending on the severity of the concern, you might want to have the discussion with the employee first thing in the morning so that you are still available should they have questions or need clarification.
If the issue is severe and the employee’s job is in jeopardy, it might be an emotional discussion for them. So, scheduling the conversation for after lunch and allowing them to leave with pay for the remainder of the day might be the best option. If you allow them to leave, remind them they are expected to return to work the next day, and give them their usual start time. If they are very upset, consider calling them a taxi to ensure they get home safely.
I also suggest having these conversations on a Monday or Tuesday. By holding these discussions earlier in the week, you’re able to check in on the employee to see how they’re performing and help them cope should your feedback be hard to swallow.
Preparation is key.
Do your homework. Ensure what you are about to address is factual and not someone’s opinion. If you are basing the discussion on someone’s opinion or observation, ensure that you’ve had at least one other person confirm the information. I believe everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt.
A good rule of thumb is that a leader can address performance in a direct manner for something they have observed themselves, yet they can coach and educate an employee on something that might have been told by someone else. If you have not witnessed the issue yourself — and even if you trust the source of the information — every leader must keep in mind there are always two or even three sides to a story.
Choosing your words carefully makes a difference.
One of the easiest ways to share direct feedback with an employee is to use this format: “When you do X, the result is Y, so can you do Z instead?” I learned this method years ago while earning my human resources degree. For example, you might say, “Bob, when you don’t make your monthly targets, it adds unnecessary pressure to the team. So, can you contact your group of clients at the beginning of the month to help yourself better plan to achieve your targets?”
However, you need to keep in mind that your ultimate job as a leader is to set them up for success. Performance conversations, such as the one described above, tend to be combined with write-ups, which can lead to termination. Any time you can choose to coach instead of manage, it helps foster a more open and trusting environment.
For example, a coaching conversation looks more like this: “Bob, when you don’t make your monthly targets, I am not sure you’re aware that this adds undue stress. People are staying late to do part of your work, which is creating animosity within the team. I would like you to come up with an action plan on what you can do to achieve your targets. What can I do to help facilitate that?”
As leaders, we all know the importance of feedback. Without it, employees might not learn and move forward. This is why I encourage you to change your mindset about “difficult conversations” and instead look at these discussions as opportunities to provide feedback. The sole purpose is to help people.