Handling Difficult Conversations with employees

Having a difficult conversation with an employee is not something any of us look forward to, but it is a necessary part of our job as a leader. A manager must embrace the good and the hard parts of the job in order to acheive success from their team.

When is it time to have that difficult conversation?

Waiting until the end of the year or the end of quarter isn't the right time. Our discipline of continuous feedback hopefully has instilled the need to provide positive and constructive feedback as soon as possible.

The quarterly and yearly reviews are a time to discuss the past period and an overview of all the conversations you have had over that period.

Address the problem in a timely manner. Right after you see it happen or within a day or two. It needs to be fresh.

Prepare yourself for discussion

Figure out what went wrong and why

  • What did they do wrong or what did they not do that they should have?

Get the facts to help support your viewpoint

  • You need supporting documentation or data to help you point out what went wrong.
  • Be prepared to let them know what their actions did and how negatively impacted the project and organization

What can we do to improve the situation?

  • What steps or actions need to be taken in order to prevent this from happening again?
  • Think of things that you can do to help guide them

Be prepared for an emotional situation

  • Emotions can be high, especially with constructive feedback.
  • Check your emotions and steel yourself for the employee being emotional
  • Be empathetic
  • Understand this is for their own good as well as the company's

Schedule the meeting as soon as possible

  • Find a quiet and confidential place to have the conversation
  • Allocate enough time for discussion
  • Set the time to be sooner rather than later
  • Don't assume things will fix themselves, schedule the meeting.

Have the "talk"

Be clear about why you are having the meeting

  • Be upfront and honest.
  • Let them know why you need to talk with them
  • Don't surprise them.

Stick to the fact

  • Let them know exactly what they did or didn't do and explain the impacts of that action/inaction
  • Give them concrete examples of when they didn't perform as expected
  • Give them examples of the outcome of those actions/inactions and how they affected the team and the organization

Ask for the employees side of the story

  • Repeat back a summary of what they said to ensure you are listening well
  • Be an active listener and acknowledge their thoughts
  • Let them know this is the time to be open and honest. They should speak with candor.
  • Work with them to try and identify the root cause of the why it happened.
  • Ask them for a solution to the problem
  • Give them ample time to speak

Help them learn

  • You have pointed out the issue, now provide them with a solution.
  • Let them know how they should have acted in the situation or performed the task.
  • Let them know you want the best for them and you are letting them know of the issue so they can improve.

After care

Immediately after the meeting

  • Write down what you discussed.
  • Send a copy to the employee as a confirmation
  • Determine success or failure. What is the plan if they succeed? What is the plan if they fail?
  • Set a reminder to follow up on the goal

Periodically check on the employee to see if they are on track

  • Look for improvements or setback
  • Recognize them immediately when you see positive or negative actions

Setup your follow up meeting

  • Collect information throughout so you have something for the meeting to prove your case for success or failure.
  • Discuss their improvement or talk about their failure.
  • If they improved, give them kudos and congratulations
  • If they failed, impose the consequences you decided on when you set the goal.

Pro Tips

  • Always ensure they understand the consequences of not meeting their goals. Be clear.
  • Have the conversation quickly after the actions. Time will not make things go away or get better.
  • Listen with an open ear. It is possible there were special circumstances you weren't aware of. Personal issues, etc.
  • Use follow up meetings to keep up to date on their progress and help them where you can.