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Having the “Difficult Chat”

scoldingIt’s only natural to want to prolong a confrontation or an uncomfortable discussion, but it’s a leader’s job to address issues head on.  The longer a problem continues, the more difficult it will be to correct improper conduct and help staff to improve their performance.  Small course corrections are far less painful – and far simpler – than large ones.

Karen Barretta from Business Management Daily has some sage advice for managers facing that difficult chat:

Don’t procrastinate.  Don’t delay until tomorrow what you should be talking about today.  When the issue involves performance, employees are bound to continue on the same path until they’re instructed otherwise.  By and large, your staff cannot read your mind – you’ve got to communicate when something is awry.  Problems rarely correct themselves.  With the approval of upper management, the same philosophy can be applied to notifying employees of a pending layoff; let them know as early on as you can, and they’ll have time to set their affairs in order, come what may.

Plan ahead.  Identify what you see as the ideal outcome from the conversation and consider any issues or questions that may crop up in the course of the discussion so that you can have well-thought-out responses at the ready.  For example, if disciplinary action is being taken, be prepared to back up the decision with evidence of the employee’s poor performance or problem behavior, presenting the facts in an objective manner, from the issue at hand to the company’s policy in dealing with such concerns.  Also be prepared to listen to the employee’s response and offer up an action plan to address the issue.

Respect privacy.  Don’t attempt to have these conversations in department meetings or at the employee’s cubicle, where he’s surrounded by his peers – and their prying ears.  Move to a closed-door office or a conference room.  However gentle your delivery, if the problem employee’s professional shortfalls are being aired in front of his colleagues, the message will not be received well.

Consult with HR.  In some instances, such as those involving discipline or termination, it’s best to check in with HR prior to the meeting to ensure that any action taken is warranted and in line with the company’s policies.  The HR staff can also advise on what to say – and what not to say – in the meeting to make sure you don’t violate any employment laws.

Published by Conselium Executive Search, the global leader in compliance search.  
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