Handling Difficult Conversations – Part One

Difficult conversations with employees are part of a line manager’s role.

Any conversation that you would rather not have can result in you expecting it to be a difficult one. However, issues need to be dealt with before they escalate into more serious problems, so in this series of blogs we’ll look at how best to handle them.

Issues that managers find difficult to raise with employees include:

  • delivering bad news, such as confirmation that an employee is being dismissed
  • providing feedback on performance
  • raising an issue of misconduct
  • raising the issue of an employee’s personal hygiene
  • addressing a conflict between colleagues
  • acknowledging that the line manager was wrong and the employee was right.

What happens if you ignore the issue?

Failing to have a conversation to address the issue could have a number of potentially serious consequences:

  • The issue may interfere with your own work
  • If an issue of poor performance or misconduct is left unchecked, the employee may think that the situation is acceptable
  • Failing to address issues of poor performance or misconduct will make it more difficult for you to impose a disciplinary sanction at a later date
  • If left unresolved the issue may cause productivity problems for the individual, the team and the organisation
  • If the issue that needs to be addressed is the employee’s failure to pull his or her weight, failing to address it may cause problems with the employee’s colleagues who may have to pick up the individual’s slack
  • A loss of respect for you as a manager and the organisation as a whole can develop.

Once you have decided to address the issue by having a conversation with the individual, you should conduct it in an appropriate manner so that both parties use the situation to maximum benefit. There are five key areas that you should consider.

1. Preparation

Effective preparation for the meeting will help you get across what you want to say without losing sight of the objective. There are several strands to effective preparation:

  • Investigate the issue before the meeting to be able to provide evidence
  • Decide what the ideal outcome of the conversation would be
  • Think carefully about the differences between your character and that of your employee. You could adapt your style of doing things to assist with understanding and acceptance of the message by your employee.
  • Think about your frame of mind before having the conversation
  • Concentrate on the issue rather than the individual

You should prepare any materials that may be needed for the meeting, including extra copies of documents for the employee. You can also practise what you are going to say, particularly any opening statement or questions.

A difficult conversation should always be conducted in private so that neither the line manager nor the employee is embarrassed and so that you both feel that they can speak freely. You should allow sufficient time to enable proper discussion.

2. Communication

It is important for you to communicate the issue clearly, so that there are no misunderstandings. You must also put the message across in a way that is constructive, even though the information may seem negative.

Set the right tone: begin the conversation in a professional manner as this will encourage a professional attitude throughout the meeting and help to achieve a successful outcome.

State the issues clearly: To avoid misunderstanding, state clearly what the issue is. Praise or positive comments can be useful, but you should not let this cloud the message that you need to impart.

Put the issue in context: Demonstrate why the issue is important.

Give specific examples and evidence: If the message that needs to be imparted is that the employee has been refused a request for flexible working, it helps if you can give specific examples of why the request cannot be accommodated.

Focus on the issue, not the person: Avoid expressing your opinion about the employee. This can be done by sticking to the facts and avoiding generalisations and comments on the individual’s personality.

Avoid an attitude of blame: The issue needs to be addressed in a collaborative way. Managers should not approach a conversation with an attitude of ‘line manager versus the employee, but with an attitude of ‘both versus the problem’.

Avoid belittling the issue: Your own fear of a difficult conversation could lead you to belittle the issue. Avoid phrases such as “this won’t take long”, “it’s really not a big deal” and “I’m sure you’re aware of what I’ll be saying”.

Be positive: Managers should be bold and state that they want a successful outcome to the meeting. This will give a constructive tone and feel to the conversation even if the news seems bad. It also helps if you use positive words, such as “improvement” and “achievement”, rather than negative words, such as “failure” and “weakness”.

Body language: Be aware of your own body language so that it does not alienate the employee. Your attitude will usually be replicated by the employee.

There is a lot more to getting through difficult conversations with employees, including listening, exploring the issue and agreeing the next action, which we’ll cover in the next blog in this series.

If you need some help now with handling difficult conversations, contact us now and we can provide you with some free, impartial advice, to help you get started. Call us on 0118 940 3032 or click here to email me.

Source: Xperthr

Take Seven Steps to Improve Employee Performance – Part One

When you’re looking to grow your business, you’re only as strong as your weakest member. Dealing with somebody in your team who doesn’t live up to the standards you require is difficult, both legally and ethically. Before you show an employee the red card, be sure you have tried everything that is expected from you, the employer, to guide them and push their performance to a higher level.

There is a seven stage process you can follow, to help you tackle poor performance. Here are the first three steps to take:

Step 1: Informal Conversations

Your starting point for resolving issues should be to deal with them early and informally. Sit down and discuss your concerns with your employee. Use these meetings to encourage and develop the behaviour and performance you want.

Never automatically assume that the employee is at fault. Investigate the causes of poor performance before deciding what action to take. Your aim should always be to help your employee bring their performance up to standard.

Step 2: Offer Support

Where your conversation reveals a cause that’s not the fault of your employee, your initial response should be to offer help and support. Regularly monitor performance, referencing the objectives and timescales agreed, where appropriate. You should offer ongoing support, even after the discussion; and keep records and notes of all informal discussions.

Step 3: Performance Review Meeting

If, following informal discussion and support, and from monitoring your employee’s performance, you don’t feel improvements have been made, you’ll need to follow a formal capability procedure. This procedure provides for a series of performance review meetings with the employee following which formal warnings may be issued.

You must give your employee at least 48 hours’ notice of a performance review meeting and ensure the arrangements are handled with discretion and confidentiality.

Make sure you’re accompanied at the meeting by a colleague or HR representative. Their role is to support you and take accurate notes of the meeting, enabling you to focus on handling the session fairly and appropriately.

There’s a lot to take in here, so we’ll cover the next steps in another blog. In the meantime, if you need any help now with a staff performance issue, call us on 0118 940 3032 or email sueferguson@optionshr.co.uk and we’ll give you some advice.

What’s the Best Way to Keep Your Staff Happy?

Happy employees make happy clients and customers. Here’s a check list of all the things you should be doing, to keep your staff – and therefore your clients and customers – happy. How many are you doing?

  • Improve their engagement with your company – low cost options include offering flexibility, the opportunity to buy or sell holiday and working from home
  • Cheer everyone up – buy them food at work
  • Give lots of praise – in public, if necessary
  • Recognise their achievements – a lot
  • Be reassuring (but realistic) about job security
  • Be flexible about working hours and opportunities to improve their work life balance
  • Be open, honest and involved with your team
  • Keep them in touch with all the news – good or bad
  • Keep up with employees training and development – it does not need to cost a lot. Don’t abandon development and new opportunities. Job training is perceived as a value
  • Develop your company culture – involve everyone in decisions and provide opportunities for staff who don’t normally work together to get to know each other
  • Offer chances to put forward suggestions – it could save you a fortune and it increases the sense of ownership and belonging
  • Provide regular team meetings to reinforce the company culture and beliefs
  • Think about using a promotion as a low cost way of improving self-esteem and self-worth
  • Treat everyone with respect – it doesn’t cost anything and it improves motivation.

How well did you score? What more could you be doing to keep your staff happy?

What’s the Difference Between Informal and Formal Appraisals?

This is a question I’m often asked by managers, so I thought I would answer it here.

A performance appraisal can occur in two ways – informally or more formally (or systematically.) Informal appraisals can be carried out whenever the supervisor feels it is necessary. The day-to-day working relationship between a manager and an employee offers an opportunity for the employee’s performance to be assessed. This assessment is communicated through conversation on the job, over coffee, or by on-the-spot examination of a particular piece of work. Informal appraisals are especially appropriate when time is an issue. The longer feedback is delayed, the less likely it is to encourage a change in behaviour. Frequent informal feedback to employees can also prevent surprises when the formal evaluation is communicated. However, you should make sure that they don’t become too informal – don’t be tempted to discuss an appraisal in the pub!

Although informal appraisals are useful, they should not take the place of formal appraisals. These are used when the contact between a manager and an employee is more formal. This could be when they don’t see each other on a daily, or even weekly basis. It requires a system to be in place to report managerial impressions and observations on employee performance.

When Should You Carry out Appraisals?

Appraisals typically are conducted once or twice a year, most often annually, near the anniversary of the employee’s start date. For new employees, common timing is to conduct an appraisal 90 days after employment, again at six months and annually after that. ‘Probationary’ or new employees, or those who are new and in a trial period, should be evaluated frequently—perhaps weekly for the first month and monthly thereafter until the end of the introductory period for new employees. After that, annual reviews may be sufficient.

Some managers prefer to meet with their employees more frequently. Some companies in high-technology fields are promising accelerated appraisals— six months instead of a year—so that employees receive more frequent raises. The result for some companies has been a reduction in turnover among these very turnover-prone employees.

A regular time interval is a feature of formal, systematic appraisals that distinguishes them from informal appraisals. Both employees and managers are aware that performance will be reviewed on a regular basis and they can plan for performance discussions. In addition, informal appraisals should be conducted whenever a manager feels they are desirable.

Should We Talk About Pay As Well?

Many experts say that the timing of performance appraisals and pay discussions should be different. The major reason for this view is that employees often focus more on the pay amount than on what they have done well or need to improve. Sometimes managers may manipulate performance appraisal ratings to justify the desired pay treatment for a given individual.

However you carry out appraisals – whether informally or formally – take some time to think about the pros and cons of the different options. This will help you implement the best process for the development of your business and your employees.

Communication is the Most Powerful HR Tool

Communicating on a regular basis with your employees is one of the most powerful HR tools available to you. Talking to your staff can help prevent small issues from turning into more complex, potentially expensive ones, such as grievances or disciplinary problems. Finding out what your employees are thinking can even help you encourage them to work harder for your business.

How do you do this?

One of my clients called me in to help them sort out some problems recently. The management had noticed that their staff were complaining about not being told what was going on in the business. There was actually nothing happening for them to worry about, but because the management didn’t tell them anything, they started to think that the management was hiding something. A regular open forum was held at their quarterly staff meetings, giving employees the chance to speak up and ask questions; but no one ever did. So the managers assumed that everyone was happy.

To find out more, I arranged a meeting with a cross section of the staff, to ask them how they really felt about the communication in the business and how it could improve. One thing they told me was that no one liked asking questions in the open forum. No had had the courage to stand up in front the whole business to speak out!

Next I had a meeting with the directors of the business, to report back what I had found out. There was another staff meeting coming up, so instead of expecting employees to voice their concerns at the open forum, we came up with an alternative. Before the staff meeting, we would split the employees into a number of smaller groups, each with one of the directors. They would ask their group how they would like to be communicated with. One person from each group would then bring forward the ideas from their group to present to the whole business. This allowed people who were brave enough to stand up in front of the colleagues the opportunity to do so.

At the very next staff meeting, a whole range of issues where brought up in front of the whole business in this way. It gave the employees a real chance to tell the management what they thought. There was an opportunity to really discuss, openly, what was going on in the business (and what wasn’t going on!) Concerns were aired and fears where allayed. The end result was a very happy staff – and happy management too.

This is just one example of how communication can be used to improve a business. This solution worked for this business – what is important is that you work with your staff to find out what will be the most appropriate for them.

When you have regular and open lines of communication with your employees, you can help to prevent negative issues from arising and build a happy, engaged and productive team for your business.