As leaders we’ve all been there before – having to deal with an underperforming team member. Those are not usually easy conversations to have. This article will go through a few things you can do to prepare yourself for having those difficult conversations, but also what you should be looking to get out of them. Nobody has invented a time machine so it’s important to not focus on the past, but look to change behavior to get better results from your team.
Understand the Problem
A lot of leaders are put in the position of disciplining a team member when they are given feedback from another stakeholder about that particular person. A lot of times it may not be behavior that’s even observed directly by the leader. This makes the conversation more difficult because without observing behavior first hand, it makes it more difficult to pinpoint corrective actions. It’s vital for leaders to fully understand what the issue is, even if that means engaging the third party (who directly observed the behavior) and ensuring that what is being claimed is true and counter to what the team member is responsible for.
Find Corrective Actions
The entire goal of the difficult conversations is to correct behavior. After explaining the issue, corrective actions should be discussed with the team member. Look for what they can be doing differently to help themselves (and indirectly, you) to succeed. As an example, if you have a team member who is constantly ignoring requests for help, using high workload as an excuse, work with that person to see why they are too busy to spare 5 minutes to hear someone out. Explain that going forward, those 5 minute conversations can save potential hours of work and frustration for someone else.
Don’t Make It Personal
I’ve gotten taken to the proverbial woodshed more than once in my career, and most times I think I deserved it. And the one common theme in almost all those verbal lashings was that this was about my performance – not about me. My attitude was great, my execution was poor and that’s it. My leaders were very good at separating personal from professional when it came to discipline and corrective actions. Offering support to get better is key to making sure that your team members understand that it’s about the process, not about you attacking them personally.
Being a leader is tough. It’s about making sure your team is performing at as high of level as they can. Sometimes tough conversations are needed to keep things on track and to keep everyone pushing in the right direction. If you prepare properly and keep a mindset about focusing on the future, it will make those conversations go a lot smoother and set your team up for success.
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