"The way you see people is the way you treat them, and the way you treat them is what they become." - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
When it comes to having "Difficult" conversations with employees who are underperforming it can be challenging for both sides. Not just the person receiving the news that they are not keeping up with the duties expected of them, but also the manager or boss giving the news. This is why I take an approach that comes from "empathic concern". I like to call emphatic concern a Jedi mind trick, almost like an extra sense that enables you to connect with people better. In its simplest form, it means you understand what people need from you without them asking.
When most people approach underperformance by attacking staff with blame or examples of their inadequacies, it’s important to do the opposite and take time to connect with them before you sit down and talk about any performance. Here is how you approach it so both parties have the most success.
Take time to connect 2-3 weeks prior to the "sit down", if you can. When an employee or staff member is not living up to their side of the bargain it’s not a surprise to you, it’s probably been happening for a while and you're finally setting up some time to address it. It’s easy to pull them aside and talk down to them, but I want you to hold that urge, and instead, I want you to ask if they have time to connect during work hours.
Take a few minutes to approach them at work or during a break. Strike up a conversation that feels authentic on your part. If this feels too awkward then I think you might have other challenges that need to be addressed first, as far as your approach to running your staff.
What I’ve found is that most people will work harder and smarter when they believe there is a reason for it and that reason can simply be because they know you care for them. There is a great quote by Sam Walton (Creator of Walmart) that explains this in a simple way, "If you want the people in the stores to take care of the customers, you have to make sure you're taking care of the people in the stores."
Once you connect with them be sure to show them you care by taking time to talk about them and empower them through the words you use. The small talk goes a long way if it’s real. As you connect you may discover what’s really going on. The reason for their work performance being lower may be because they are struggling with something else at home, or possibly a different issue at work. The point is you will never know unless you approach the situation with actual care and concern. Remember that this person was once hired into the organization because they showed promise, but something happened along the way.
The next step is also very unorthodox. It can be during the same conversation or you can approach them on a different day as you build more rapport, if rapport has not been established well. Remember you are playing chess not checkers and people can see right through your fake approach if you rush through it.
Ask your staff member what they think you can be doing better or what the company can be doing better as a whole. I’ve found that this approach drops any guard down, and this is a crucial part so that the next step works correctly. What usually happens here is if there is something that has been bugging this person which has been affecting their work then it will come out here, but only if you actually take time to listen to the criticism being given though. Don’t get defensive and be prepared to listen to something that may hurt you. Listening intently is the key to connecting. When they give you the problem ask them how that can be solved or how they would solve it if they were in your position. Be sure to validate their concern and don’t try to find reasons as to why they are wrong about the way they think.
Now, here’s the step that you’ve been waiting for. Once they finish up with their reasoning as to what can be improved on, you will then ask them what they can improve on. Something along the lines of, "I really value that information a lot. I’m actually going to reflect on that more to see what else we can improve on. Thank you. In the same spirit of getting better, what’s one thing you think that you can improve on or something that you think can be done better by you when it comes to your job?"
Now just shut up and listen. Don’t criticize or agree, just listen. In fact, if this is a staff member that cares, which most do, you will find that they know exactly what they have been slacking off on. They will go right to it and will also give a solution as to how to fix it. Here’s your opportunity to connect deeper and get some real change going. Once they are done talking be sure to tell them that you care about them and that you really appreciate them for being upfront and open. Ask if you can keep each other accountable. Your job will be to give them an update on how things are improving on your end with what you were "criticized" on and their job will be to give you an update on how they are doing to improve their current work performance.
Be sure to set up a meeting for 1 week later and take notes along with outlining what you both are committed to doing and changing. Change takes effort, but just like anything else, it pays off when done right.
Improving the performance of a staff member is not a one-way street. Your staff will trust you and follow you only when they feel like you are putting in an effort to make their life and work-life better. If you only remember one thing about this whole process just remember that your staff will always remember how you make them feel while at work, and there’s a great quote by Maya Angelou that you should memorize along these exact lines, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
It’s easy to point out who isn’t functioning well in your organization, but it’s tougher when you look inward first to see how you can change the environment so people can do a better job. When you change the way you approach connecting with people, people change the way they function around you and with you.
Thank you for reading A Brilliant Tribe!