Straight Talk: Managing Employee Performance
Most employee performance issues are a direct result of the Manager not giving feedback or Straight Talk on the employee’s performance, because they don’t know how to do it. Conflict avoidance is the easiest and least painful thing to do. Many managers would rather hope things improve than be proactive and take the required actions to have what we call a “straight talk” session. What we mean by this, is a constructive conversation aimed at improving the employee’s performance to an acceptable level. A manager who does not address employee performance issues for any reason is not doing the required people management part of their job. Interestingly, these same managers have usually never received any type of people management training at all. Providing feedback to good performers is also required but this is often not done because the manager does not want to rock the boat or in any way jeopardize the continuation of good performance. Providing feedback “how to’s” are covered in great detail in the 11 People management Challenges in the Performance management module of the HR Power Centre.
Having a Straight Talk session requires certain skills. Giving direct performance feedback or having a tough conversation is required for two reasons: to improve the employee’s performance and for the managers own development in managing people.
Here are the fundamentals required to have a constructive Straight Talk session aimed at improving employee performance.
1. Be Timely: The Straight Talk conversation has to happen close to the event which gave cause for the conversation. A caveat to this is if you are too emotional about it at the time of occurrence. Performance feedback conversations left for too long lose their impact and leaving the employee wondering why if it was that important something wasn’t said earlier.
2. Be Honest: This is what we mean by straight talk, no candy coating or diluted messages. Of course you have to have all your facts straight, if not, you may be seriously challenged and may have to go back and gather more information. Never talk in generalities or hear-say information, always have specific incidents to refer to.
3. Be Clear in the Expected Changes: Make sure the person knows exactly what it is that they are expected to change and that if they don’t then they will not be achieving what you want as their manager and they will not be fulfilling the requirements of their job.
4. Be Constructive: Straight Talk is not about demoralizing or beating people up, it is a serious attempt to improve a situation or find a solution; offer ways the person can change which will be conducive to better performance, take an active part in finding the solution, know what you can do to try and help, also let the person come up with their own views on what they think they can do differently to improve their performance.
5. Get Agreement: You can’t leave things up in the air after a straight talk discussion. In the best case get the person to acknowledge that there is indeed a performance issue and more importantly get agreement on what the next steps will be to improve the situation.
6. Capture the Straight Talk in Writing: This is not a warning letter, it is a summary (email is fine) of what was agreed in terms of the problem and also the solution and the timeframes in which improvement is expected. The next straight talk session date should also be clearly understood and documented.