Ouch…. How to have those difficult conversations

A few clients have contacted me recently to discuss issues they are having with ‘badly behaved’ staff… I always find this quite interesting. Managing staff is no different to being a parent. Staff need boundaries just as children do. In fact, the truth be told, we all need boundaries. I am not sure whether any of you have experienced the situation where your partner lets you get away with everything and so you end up treating them badly and misbehaving simply because you can…

It’s unfortunate, but human beings were not made to do the right thing. We were made to explore, test and challenge the status quo. We actually have a tendency of making life quite difficult and overly complex for ourselves and those around us.

If we can all accept the fact that we need boundaries we have a place to start from. We can also avoid having to engage in performance management of employees if we take on board the need to manage our staff just as we do our children and in all honesty; our relationships. If this blog was long enough I could in fact talk myself out of potential HR Consulting work altogether………No, the process still needs to be implemented so no fear of that happening.

Performance management of staff does have negative connotations and it’s best to nip things in the bud before formal performance management and HR issues become necessary, requiring forms and Performance Improvement Plans or a PIP as we HR Consultants like to call them.

How does one go about this I hear you ask?

Well, we need to have those difficult conversations that we all try to avoid like the plague…I liken it to going to the gym when you’ve had some time off due to illness. It’s hard to get back into the momentum and so you put it off. After a while you have forgotten the programme you had and can’t remember which exercise you were doing to get rid of the fadoobadahs, (need Kath and Kim to spell this one for me) and which ones were for the biceps… So you delay returning again. By now, you have reached the point of thinking that if you went to the gym, you may not even make it up the steps before passing out due to a total lack of fitness……

Ok, so this is a bit dramatic but you get my point………..It gets worse and worse the longer you put it off………..However, the lesson here is that if you had gone to the gym as soon as you were feeling better and just tackled your programme gently it would have been far less catastrophic or painful than you had imagined but seeing as you put it off for so long, you are faced with an uphill battle………Do I sound as if I am speaking from experience here?

This is what happens with HR and performance management of staff. Managers and supervisors have a tendency of avoiding these disciplinary meetings like the plague. Why is this? Nine times out of ten, it’s quite simply that they really don’t feel confident in their abilities to have the conversations effectively. Another reason can also be that most people like to be liked and performance managing people tends to cause some angst with staff.

However, in all my years of HR and related fields and having to engage in countless difficult performance management conversations, I have found that if you adopt a fair and reasonable approach, you cannot go wrong. The problem is that many organisations do not have robust management training for staff and so knowledge of what is fair and reasonable can be lacking from an HR perspective. It is fair to say that there is certainly no regular training given to new managers in how to actually be leaders across very many firms.

We don’t just instantly know how to handle these situations, just as we are not born knowing everything about being a good parent…..The difference here is that practice can make perfect in parenting (unless you make a massive mistake and this is an entirely different topic), whereas practice and getting it wrong in HR can result is being sued and massive EEO issues, financial losses for companies, not to mention disgruntled employees….

EEO or Equal Employment Opportunity based prejudice can very quickly land companies in hot water. If an employee is behaving badly and other staff members are being affected, then companies can leave themselves wide open for harassment claims, discrimination and any other EEO based issues. This can take the matter out of the hands of managers and directors and dump them straight into a world of pain. Tackling these issues head on can avoid this reality.

As soon as performance or behavioural issues that are not in line with company values and policies are brought to the attention of a manager, they need to be addressed, in fairness to the staff member as well as the company. Remember that if performance based issues such as not meeting KPI’s (key performance indicators) are not brought to the attention of an employee, it will be very difficult to terminate their employment as you will have no evidence!

A robust HR process including performance management must be designed for all businesses with reporting lines (staff as opposed to sole operators) in order to make the conversations easier to have, the backing of a solid process gives managers a platform to start from. A nice dose of training never goes astray either!

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