Miguel sped through the assigned task. He was sure it was perfect and would be readily accepted because he believed he was so talented at this. When it got to boss Susan’s desk, she noticed there were grammatical errors, and the “look” of the piece wasn’t the quality the department normally produced. Susan shook her head. Miguel never liked being told he had to redo something, and now Susan needed to have “The Talk”… again.
It’s a leader’s worst nightmare: under-performing employees. What to do? Is this a time to wait and watch, to step in and support, to reassign, to reprimand, or to remove the employee?
Many of the leaders I work with typically choose one of two options: 1) avoid confrontation by watching and waiting or reassigning, or 2) get angry and confront the employee with strong emotions, closed mind, and a directive attitude. Neither approach is good for getting buy-in or for helping employees grow skills.
There are so many emotions involved in making this decision – yours and theirs – and those feelings can get in the way of making the appropriate choice for having “The Talk”. Here are five ways to have “The Talk”. Which one is right for your situation?
Remain watchful. There are times when someone is learning something new or is working through a problem. If that person seems to be working through the bumps, it’s okay to hang back and see what transpires. In these cases, the person may benefit from being asked a few questions to help them clarify their thinking or problem solve.
Remind. When employees seem to persist in behaviors that don’t match expectations, ask them to clarify what they understand the work to be. This is especially good for first time encounters around an issue. It’s a great time to give additional information, or reminders: “I may not have mentioned…” “Maybe you didn’t know…” “Just a reminder, this is the process here…” “To be clear, this is the expectation…”
Refocus. It can be easy to lose sight of the end goal or vision for a project, report, or collaborative work. Clarify the work to be done by asking questions about what is working well, what their understanding of the expected outcome is, and what options they have for getting to that goal. Be clear about what it is to be part of this work “family” – things such as how people behave, or the quality of work expected. Sometimes just being reminded is enough to get an employee refocused.
Refresh or Reassign. If the person’s talents and skills are not what the project needs, it’s time for one of three things to happen: provide training to teach the person how to do the job, provide a coach or mentor to help build skills, or hand the work off to someone who does have the ability to do it. It will be less stressful for the employee and free him up to do the work he enjoys and does well. The person who has the capability and interest in the work to be done will likely do the job much more quickly and efficiently. To understand what is needed, explore with the employee where they are struggling, and what they think would help them improve their performance. Then decide and outline together what next steps should be.
Reprimand. This is the toughest “Talk” and the last resort. You should have had one or more of the previous talks, asked questions to help them think through the challenges, or provided opportunities to acquire the skills needed. It’s important to prepare before you pounce. The Reprimand Talk sets clear boundaries for behavior or performance, and clear ramifications if either are outside of the set boundaries. It’s important to acknowledge what contributions the employee is making in other areas, and to review the outcomes of past discussions briefly. This helps both of you focus on the behavior or issue rather than the person. Be sure to end this Talk with documentation of the go-forward plan, and an appointment to follow up for accountability.
Remove. The final “Talk” outlines what was expected, what the performance or behavior actually was, and with calmness and respect, releases the person from employment. Be sure to check with your HR department for any necessary procedures and scripts to meet requirements.
No matter what type of “Talk” you choose to have, remember that not all employees are the same. To have the most successful “Talk”, keep in mind what you know about the person’s strengths, weaknesses and personality. How you approach him/her will directly impact the outcome.
If you are struggling with employees who are rushing through their work, or if you are uncertain how to have the “Talk” with a team member, contact Joy! It’s easy to over-react to an issue or under-clarify your expectations. After all, if you want them to walk the walk, you have to talk the talk.