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The Truth Hurts…or Does it?

We hear it all the time….”so and so is no good at their job,” “why can’t they just do what I ask them to do,” “I don’t understand why they don’t provide good service/deliver a quality product, etc.” As leaders, managers and HR professionals we hear these sorts of nuggets all the time. Over the years, in the many 1:1 conversations I have had with managers, it is a common complaint of theirs when they have an employee who simply isn’t performing. The manager in question is usually frustrated, upset, bewildered or downright fed up with the employee and their inability to meet performance expectations. When presented with this sort of scenario from managers, my first response is always, “well, have you told them that they aren’t meeting your expectations?” This question is often met with silence, “um..er…uh,” “no,” or even “well, I don’t want to hurt their feelings.”

The obvious is then on the table, that is, the employee is not meeting your expectations because they DON’T KNOW that they aren’t meeting your expectations! As human beings, we often avoid confrontation and having these difficult conversations but as managers it is our responsibility to address this with our employees. Presumably we have established some form of goals or objectives for the employee in their role. At the very least, we have outlined their area of responsibility and identified how we will measure their success – even if it only includes manager observation as the metric. So, from the employee’s perspective, they haven’t heard from their manager that anything is wrong, so they assume everything is ok!

TruthUnfortunately, in many cases all is not ok. We often assume that these conversations where we identify areas that aren’t up to expectations with our employee(s) will be difficult ones. In some cases this may be true, but my experience is that in many cases these conversations actually work out well. In fact, your employee will appreciate the fact that you had the conversation and gave them an opportunity to improve. The conversations become harder to have if the manager has ignored the issue for a longer period of time and then is attempting to tell the employee that their performance for the past 8 months is not up to par. Or worse yet, these shortcomings appear on their annual performance review which is the WORST way to address these performance deficiencies!

So, here is the advice – the truth doesn’t always hurt. So if/when you have an employee whose performance is in need of a tweak or adjustment, have the conversation with them. Don’t let things fester. Identify the specific performance area that is not meeting expectations. Provide specific example(s) of this to context the conversation. Identify how you are measuring their success or progress in the area and identify the expected outcome or change required. If needed, coach them on how to improve or make the change and come to an agreement on making the change. As I have said before, don’t delay, coach today!

If, as a manager, you have not done so already, you should outline the employee’s key areas of responsibility and identify the expected outcomes and KPI’s in these areas because in many areas, these may not be obvious. (You don’t want your employee working on one thing and you are expecting them to deliver on something else!) That then forms a great starting point for addressing performance gaps and more importantly, for measuring and rewarding performance success. The bottom line is that you HAVE to have these conversations with your employees. It is your duty as a manager to have this dialogue and be a leader. As I said before, don’t fear the employee’s response as most will appreciate the feedback. Remember, always focus on the issue not the person. Stick to specific examples and identify how you will help them improve – your employee will appreciate this communication and performance feedback because contrary to that old saying, the truth doesn’t hurt!

What about you? What has been your experience in this area? How have your employees responded when you tell them the “truth”? What about when your manager spoke the truth to you? How did you respond or feel? Did you appreciate their honesty?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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