Conversations with difficult employees made easy

Conversations with difficult employees made easy

Part of regular performance management is engaging with employees, and this includes recognizing both positive and negative performance. Challenging and difficult conversations are an unfortunate part of management. However, when handled properly, they can be hugely beneficial for furthering an employee’s career and personal development. 94% of employees want to have these conversations; they see ‘corrective’ feedback as core to their career progression. However, if handled poorly, difficult conversations can have implications not only for morale but also for staff retention. 55% of workers have, at some point, quit their job over bad management practices.

Ehssan Abdallar and Ashish Ahluwalia wrote and article, “The Keys to Building a High-Performance Culture’” DECEMBER 12, 2013. Excerpts from this article will be used to explain how creating a High-Performance Culture in the company leads to more easy conversations with difficult employees.

According to Abdallar an Ahluwalia, Gallup studied 3,477 managers from companies in the oil and gas, banking and finance, property development, tourism, automotive, and telecommunications sectors. The results show that the best managers create high-performance cultures by setting clear expectations, defining employees’ roles, creating a trusting environment, and encouraging employees’ growth and development. They continuously raise the bar by encouraging higher performance from themselves and from their teams. In addition to its manager study, Gallup analyzed data from more than 30,000 employees from organizations in the oil and gas, banking and finance, property development, tourism, and telecommunications sectors. This analysis revealed 6 crucial components that determine a company’s ability to create a high-performance culture — one that improves top- and bottom-line business metrics.

1. Implement an effective performance management process. The leading businesses create performance management processes that: (a) use a merit-based system to differentiate between high and low performers, (b) clearly define standards and expectations at the individual, team, departmental, and organizational level, (c) develop transparent reward systems and (d) articulate shared goals and objectives.
2. Create empowerment and authority. In organizations where trust and accountability are strong, empowered employees are more likely to: (a) recognize and respond to changing information from the marketplace, (b) develop innovative ideas to meet market demands and stay ahead of the competition, and (c) connect with customers to create a branded experience.
3. Increase leadership capability at all levels of the company. Gallup’s analysis shows that companies with the highest levels of employee engagement share a common mission and purpose, from the top of the business to the bottom. Their leaders are accessible and visible, and they: (a) inspire employees with consistent and regular communication — both company-wide and individually — about the organization’s future, (b) connect today’s work, initiatives, and changes with where the business is heading, (c) provide employees with a unified message that bolsters the company’s mission, and they show employees how to “live” that mission, (c) inspire trust and respect throughout the organization, (d) involve all employees in developing strategy, especially field experts and high-potential and future leaders.
4. Develop a customer-centric strategy. Gallup’s research shows that organizations that accomplish this goal are more likely to stand out in a marketplace that is increasingly congested. Before companies can create and implement a customer-centric strategy, they must first ensure that employees understand why they are doing it — and that employees understand their individual and collective responsibilities in meeting customer needs and expectations.
5. Increase communication and collaboration. Integrating customer service values, mission and purpose, leadership visibility, and authority and empowerment into a comprehensive performance management process will be successful only if companies communicate these initiatives in a coordinated way. The most engaged organizations overcome this challenge by: (a) selecting leaders and managers who have the potential to be top performers based on the right balance of talent, skills, knowledge, and experience, (b) ensuring that leaders and managers understand their role in the communication process, both within the company and with external audiences, (c) scheduling regular and open one-on-one conversations to disseminate and individualize key messages and following up as needed to ensure employees understand and absorb those messages, (d) using a collaborative approach to resolve problems and pursue opportunities as a team and across departments and divisions, which is key to developing and maintaining high levels of responsiveness and quality.
6. Enhance training and development. Gallup’s research suggests that the most engaged organizations recognize that setting up their employees for success is vital to ensuring continuous improvement and growth for employees and for the company. These companies don’t relegate employee development to managers. Instead, they view talent as a corporate asset and support it at all levels. The analysis also suggests that the most engaged companies align customized training and development plans with the organization’s overarching objectives and direction, providing employees with a clear career pathway.

In summary, meeting your employees only to have difficult conversations is not going to build a rapport that is conducive to progress and development. Pulling them into your office to discuss negative performance or only ever meeting them for annual reviews will not improve the performance of your team and does not lend itself to the acceptance of ‘corrective’ feedback. If they rarely hear from you, and then when they do the words are mostly negative, you’ll find employees struggle to hear and engage with the criticism provided, no matter how constructive. Giving regular feedback that is balanced helps employees to develop their resilience so that they can accept constructive feedback when it is necessary. Regular, ongoing communication is at the core of building a high-performance culture. You need regular performance reviews instead of annual appraisals, staggered throughout the year at monthly or quarterly intervals. Regular one-to-one sessions mean there is always scope to offer positive feedback on achievements, strengths and progression. The result is that when a difficult conversation does occur, the employee can understand that this feedback is designed to help them to continuously improve, and they will be more likely to engage with the feedback and take it on board.

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