Hard Talk

Getting the tone right when disciplining an employee is challenging

Holding people accountable is difficult for many leaders, as management relationships can be tricky, says an organizational culture expert Helene Vermaak, Director of The Human Edge.

Performance conversations are a dreaded and avoided task for most managers as are they often intimidating, daunting and controversial.

When handled incorrectly, accountability conversations are the number one reason for people resigning from their jobs

“We find that by trying to avoid offending employees, managers talk around issues, set them aside and wait until is too late to address them and make a difference,” says Vermaak. Managers do this out of fear of breaking a relationship or having a tough conversation, and of the emotions that result from anger and hostility when employees perceive that they are being cornered or are feeling guilty for not delivering.

Connect through respect

Strong managers not only listen, they hear. They can handle emotions and are capable of holding people accountable by forging relationships based on respect.

“These relationships are open, honest and provide critical feedback at the time it is needed,” says Vermaak.

“There is a difference between honesty and brutality, and feedback and criticism. Strong managers build trust as part of the conversations and work for mutual gain, achieving results for themselves, the organization and the individual contributor.”

The Human Edge’s international partner, VitalSmarts, conducted a study to learn how leaders who were challenged by employee performance issues were achieving optimum results. They observed leaders and identified the approach that distinguished them from less successful counterparts. From these findings, VitalSmarts developed a skill set that enables managers to hold accountability conversations before, during and after an incident.

Accountability is key

The first step in holding an accountability conversation is to create the right environment. This can help employees feel less defensive, blamed or unreasonable; allowing for productive and sustainable behavior change. Leaders need to learn how to delve into the reasons behind an individual’s behavior.

During an accountability conversation, it is important that the individual feels safe about the topic being discussed. A performance shortfall is typically identified as a gap between the expectations of the manager and what actually occurred. Management should be able to explain this gap without alienating the employee, ensuring that he or she remains part of the conversation. It’s important to withhold judgment and maintain and maintain respect while the behaviors that were observed are explained.

VitalSmarts proposes using Path to Action Model that ensures that leaders adhere to the facts and don’t jump to conclusions or appear defensive or disrespectful.

Following this initial discussion, management will be able to assess whether the problem is related to motivation or ability. To conclude the conversation, a solution-focused approach should be applied, as this is empowering, and can be an effective way to resolve issues. It is important to ensure that management has the employee’s support and willingness to apply the solution.

Relationships matter

The kinds of conversations managers have with their employees are a reflection of their working relationship. Vermaak recommends that for employees to take these relationships seriously, managers need to tell the truth, be straightforward without being harsh, and get straight to the point.

Vermaak concludes that the ability to drive and hold people accountable will produce one of the most significant improvements in business. Accountability will help to establish more profitable organizations that have a high-operating performance culture – if leaders choose their actions and words beforehand.

Six hacks to take you from manager to super-manager

·         Communicate openly and often- small, frequent updates and regular acknowledgement of success (at any level)

·         Be concise when describing roles- and then hold people accountable to deliver

·         Agree on clear expectations- set two or three measurable objectives.

·         Give regular, fair and consistent feedback- positive and constructive, never negative

·         Make your team feel like a team – when reviewing progress against targets, stick to the agenda and time contact.

·         Involve the team in decisions but make the decisions you need to make – including colleagues in planning will help build their commitment

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