post

Three Steps to Having & Managing Difficult Conversations with Employees at Work

Learn about the three steps to having, managing, & dealing with tough, difficult & challenging conversations with your employees & staff at work or in the workplace.If there is one topic that new and seasoned leaders ask about the most, it is how to have difficult conversations. The reason for the conversation varies: performance issues, personality conflicts, behavioral concerns and even the most dreaded conversation of all, body odor. I find that one of the ways I spend at least part of my day, every day is coaching leaders through a difficult conversation.

The topic of how to have difficult conversations will be one of the first we roll out with our learning management system coming next year, but until then, I thought I would give three tips for preparing for and having even the most difficult of conversations.

Prepare:

I think one of the biggest mistakes made in having these conversations is that the leader goes into it without preparing. They want to get it over with so they bring the person in and just start talking. Because they haven’t thought it through ahead of time, they may not use the right words or be as direct as they need to be. For the employee it can feel as though the leader vomited a bunch of words on them that really don’t mean anything. A conversation where the employee leaves the room unsure of what was just shared or of what they are expected to do next is not going to fix anything.

While conversations should happen in a timely manner, it is ok for a leader to take some time to prepare. Sitting down and writing out key points that you want to cover, being specific about the exact problem and what you are expecting the employee to do after the conversation will help you stay on point later.

Potentially a more important part of preparation is thinking about the employee themselves and how best something like this should be communicated in a way they can hear it. What specific words does this employee need to hear? How direct can you be without shutting them down? Some employees need a bit more of a tender touch while others want no fluff. What type of employee is this? If your business has done any kind of personality workshops, like Myers Briggs, and you know the employee’s personality type, this is a great time to review how they like to be communicated to and use that in your discussion.

I firmly believe that when we communicate we should mimic the style of the person we are speaking too rather than expect them to adapt to our own. We need them to be able to hear our message in a way that it sinks in. Our normal style may not be able to accomplish that.

Focus, Specific and Action:

These are the three words I ask every leader to remember during the conversation. Tough conversations can get derailed very easily. Especially if emotions start to run high. Our natural defense when someone is giving us negative feedback is to deflect and start blaming other things. For this reason, a leader has to be able to focus and manage the conversation again and again. They have to be able to not start going down the rabbit hole of all the other things that may be brought up and remember to stick to the topic at hand. The employee isn’t going to do this so it is the leader’s job to bring the conversation back as many times as necessary.

Another pitfall that happens in these conversations is that the leader is not specific about the issue. They dance around or try to downplay the severity in an effort to save hard feelings. Indirect feedback rarely accomplishes anything. Employees need to be clear on what happened that is not acceptable. A leader should check for understanding several times throughout the conversation. If they feel the employee may not be getting the point, they should try to explain it in a different way until they are sure the employee understands the problem.

Finally the conversation has to included actionable items the employee can and should do to correct the problem. We shouldn’t always assume that the employee knows how to correct the behavior or that their way of correcting it is what we would prefer. We as leaders, must lay it out for them in a way that makes it clear what we expect.

Follow Up:

The reality is that no matter how much you prepare and follow the tips above, difficult conversations may still be very difficult. Emotions can get the best of employee and leader. Harsh words that shouldn’t have been said, can be. Desired outcomes may have not been as clear as needed. Both parties can leave the conversation angry and exhausted.

For this reason I suggest leaders wait a day or two and then follow up with the employee. Let emotions die down a bit and then do a quick check to see if the employee understood and knows what they need to do going forward. This isn’t the time to rehash everything and in the end, the employee doesn’t have to agree with the feedback, but they do have to understand it and be willing to work towards a solution.

Then of course, there should be additional follow up throughout the following weeks and months to make sure the employee is on track with the changes that needed to be made. This follow up should be full of praise when changes are made and slight course corrections so that the end outcome is highly positive.

In the training that will come out next year, we will walk through each of these steps in detail and give suggestions for what to say and do during each phase. For now, this simple guideline should put you on the path to better conversations, even when what you are saying is hard to hear. I don’t think anyone ever gets to the point of liking difficult conversations, but we can get to the point where we are comfortable having them. Like anything, it takes practice and experience. Experience that we don’t want to have, but helps us tremendously in the long run.

 

Join our weekly newsletter to learn more about the three steps to having, managing, and dealing with tough, difficult & challenging conversations with your employees and staff at work or in the workplace.



post

Why Training Should be a Priority in all Businesses

Why Training Should be a Priority in all BusinessesOne of the projects I enjoy working on the most is creating training and development programs for clients. We create training programs that cover a broad range of topics such as every day work procedures, compliance issues like anti-harassment and customized leadership development programs. We find that businesses who make training a priority have higher levels of engagement and productivity.

Employees want to be developed. This has been a hot topic over the last few years and with all the debate, I think the general population understands that developing employees makes them more loyal and less likely to leave. This is opposite the old school of thought that developing them would only help them take those skills to competitors.

In our work which is focused on small businesses, training and development is rarely a priority. Not because the business leaders think it isn’t important, they think they don’t have the time or budget to produce it. Additionally, they think the training has to be robust or have tons of bells and whistles. Rather than put something together that they think is mediocre, they put nothing together at all.

The reality is none of this is true. Any training is better than none. As long as the training relays the message needing to be conveyed in a clear and concise manner, then it doesn’t have to be fancy or have any extra added bells and whistles.

And the best part of all is that for something to be considered development, it doesn’t have to be formal training. It could be something as simple as a book club or a Slack channel where tips and tricks can be shared. It could be a 10 minute opening to every meeting where one employees trains everyone else on something of importance.

I have a small business client who needed more of their employees to speak Spanish. A larger and larger amount of their customers were Spanish speakers and it was becoming less feasible to have one or two employees translate all the time. The leader asked about bringing Spanish speakers in to teach the class or sending employees to evening classes, but both option would take too long to get everyone trained and would be rather costly in the end. I suggested that I create a training program for conversational Spanish in collaboration with the Spanish speaking employees. Had we sent employees for training or brought an instructor in, they would have started with the basics and worked their way into conversational. By allowing us to create the training program on our own, we are going to focus on what the employees need to know most first and then let their language skills grow from there.

We have just started this project and it’s going to be a long one, but I’m really excited about how it is going to turn out….and more importantly, so are the employees. The Spanish speaking employees are relieved that the business is at least attempting to get them help. The non-Spanish speakers are very excited to learn a new language, something they can use not just at work, but in their personal life as well.

Training opportunities and solutions are all around for the leader who is willing to get creative. They do not have to be complicated or created by a trained facilitator. Anything that develops the minds and skills of employees counts.

Ongoing training and development is becoming a competitive component of recruiting and hiring. Businesses who do not put some emphasis on it in the future may have a hard time finding and retaining the talent they need.

Managing Human Resources in a Small Business? Join Our Mailing List for Our Best Content Designed for You.


 

post

Employee Performance Plans that Actually Work

Employee Performance Plans That Actually Work

Employee Performance Plans that Actually Work

I don’t know a single leader who enjoys dealing with employee performance issues. Few things are more frustrating in a business setting than an employee who is either not performing or who has behavioral issues. It is an area where experience doesn’t really make it easier.

Yet, every leader, at some point or another, has an employee they have to coach and discipline.

Progressive disciplinary policies are common among organizations of all sizes. Most employee performance issues do not warrant immediate termination so policies are put in place to give employees an opportunity to improve. These policies vary but they usually have multiple steps that could include verbal warnings, performance improvement plans, written warnings, suspension, and eventual termination.

Out of all steps I believe the performance improvement plan may be the most crucial. If done well, and early, a performance improvement plan can map out the exact performance or behavior that the employer is not happy with, outline the behavior that is expected and give the employee a clear path to improvement. Unfortunately many performance improvement plans fall short of being worth the paper they are written on.

Here are our guidelines for performance improvement plans that we think actually help improve performance.

Timing:
The biggest mistake leaders make when trying to improve performance is waiting too long. The longer poor performance or bad behavior goes on, the harder it is to fix. By the time the employee is told about the issue, the leader is so frustrated they have no patience left to try to help the employee overcome. All employee issues should be dealt with as soon as they creep up. For this reason we recommend employees receive verbal coaching as often as the opportunity allows. In weekly one on ones or regular performance meetings, employees should be cautioned about any issue that may create problems down the road if they continue.

Then, after that same issue has been coached on multiple occasions, it’s time to get serious. If regular performance discussions are happening, the time between first coaching and performance plan should be relatively short.

Complete Plan:
The second biggest mistake that leaders make when delivering performance improvement plans is only delivering half the plan – the employee portion. Leaders sit an employee down, tell them what they are doing wrong, tell them to fix it and ask them to sign the form. This leaves the employee feeling as though they are on their own and probably have one foot out the door so why bother even trying.

A complete performance improvement plan follows this outline:

Description, with recent examples, of undesired behavior.
Description of desired behavior.
Why desired behavior is important to the business.
How leader is going to help employee improve.
Milestones to improvement.
Next steps and check in dates.
Consequences for not improving.
Employee opportunity to comment.

The piece in italics is the most crucial. Hopefully all leaders want employees to improve. If so, they should be willing to do their part to help employees turn the issue around. Including this in the documentation provides accountability for the leader to ensure they are offering support and assistance as needed.

The Discussion:
Discussing performance issues with employees really is an art form. I’m not convinced there is only one right way to do it. I think it depends on the employee/leader relationship, the communication style of both and the egregiousness of the issue to be discussed. Here’s what I do think should be consistent regardless of style – preparation. Nothing is worse for an employee than feeling like they have just been the victim of a drive by where their leader vomited a bunch of bad news on them and then left.

Leaders should take time to think about the personality of the employee and how they will best receive the information. They should think about framing their words in a way that the employee will be able to hear and understand what is being communicated while, and this is key, being motivated to fix it. The discussion should take as long as is needed for the employee to walk out of the room focused on the issue at hand and understanding what they need to do to fix it.

Dealing with performance issues is a necessary task for most leaders. They are best dealt with swiftly and directly before they grow into something larger than they ever needed to be. Done correctly, they can often steer employees onto a better path, and if they don’t, at least the leader can say they tried to help and the onus for failure lies with the employee.

Managing Human Resources in a Small Business? Join Our Mailing List for Our Best Content Designed for You.


post

Pre- and Post-Hire Team Building Ideas for Startups and Small Businesses

Team Building Ideas for Small Businesses and Start Ups

Uncover team building ideas for small businesses and start ups at AcaciaHRSolutions.com

A make or break factor of all startups and small businesses is the cohesiveness of the teams being built. Whether the organization is starting with just a few or ramping quickly, getting new hires to work together efficiently and effectively is top of mind for leaders. If the team doesn’t jell, the road to success could be a difficult one.

When the teams are small, even the slightest hiccup caused by employees not working well together can create a much larger ripple effect. This can cause time spent on employee relations that could be used getting a product to market. For this reason, it is crucial that leaders are very deliberate, in both the pre- and post-hire process, to create an environment where new team members can get to know one another and begin to work together in a productive way.

In the last 6 years we have facilitated numerous activities geared towards helping teams establish rapport and find the path that helps them work together better. There are activities that we believe are crucial from day one and regardless of team size. These activities work whether you have 10 employees or 10,000.

Pre-Hire
Culture: I realize it seems like a buzz word at this point, but the reality is, leaders have to think about the kind of culture they are trying to build and be deliberate about hiring people that can thrive in that environment. I ask all founders questions around culture in our first meeting. It is likely they have great vision for their product or service, but we need to understand their vision for the work environment as well. Knowing the vision, helps us hire to it.

Pre-Hire Assessments*: The best hiring decisions are ones who take both skill set and intrinsic characteristics into consideration. That is, hiring processes that look as much at personality fit as they do experience. I talked in a recent post about how we use these with clients. This extra step in the interview process can greatly increase the probability that a new hire will be a great all around fit.

Peer Interviews: As much as possible, I encourage clients to include peer interviews as part of the interview process. This means that a candidate will sit with someone who would be their peer should they be hired. While this could be one more formal interview in the process, we find that making it an informal discussion often works better. As we are structuring interview processes for clients, we encourage them to include a meal with peers, typically lunch, that either breaks up the day for all day interviews or follows a more formal session with a leader. This time together gives both parties a chance to determine if there is any initial chemistry and identify any concerns they may have in working together.

Post-Hire
Post-hire I believe there are two crucial components to team building, getting to know you and how do we move forward together. I’ll break both of those down now.

Getting to Know You Typically called Ice Breakers, getting to know you activities are focused on helping new teams get to know one another faster than might typically happen. There is often a lot of talk about these activities and their effectiveness. We have found that when the activities are targeted and not superficial, meaning we go beyond just finding out someones name and title, they can be extremely effective in starting to build camaraderie and find common ground. These activities should be customized to the team and what it is they need to know about one another in order to work together. A few we like are:

Introduce a Partner: partners ask each other five basic questions and then introduce their partner to the group answering those five questions.

Common Ground: a quick activity that starts to find commonalities. Groups of 5-10 are created and given a short window of time to come up with 10 things they all have in common. These should not be generic things (like we all have arms), but specific.

Getting to Know Communication Preferences: a personal favorite of mine since communication, or lack thereof, can make or break a team, this activity asks questions targeted to help team members understand how one communicate and how they like to be communicated to. Answers are then shared.

Myers Briggs*: people resonate with Myers Briggs. Understanding their personality type and the type of those around them is an eye opening experience. It is an amazing getting to know you exercise that dives deeply into the why and how of people. Understanding type and working with people based on their preferences improves team communication and productivity.

Moving Forward Together
After time getting to know one another it is always important to have some activity that gets people thinking about how they will take all of this knowledge, coupled with the mission of the team and work together. Often for us, it means these activities are customized. Understanding what the leader is trying to achieve with the team, coupled with the personalities on the team we customize an activity (ies) that start to build towards that end. Every team is unique and because these activities must have impact, it’s hard to throw a blanket solution out there that works for everyone. I can tell you a few components that all of our activities have.

Tie In…. it may be a tie in to the key values that have just been shared or the mission that was just rolled out or the culture that the leader is building. Whatever it is, the activity has to have a tie in. Doing trust falls are great if you have trust issues (not really but just go with me), if not, they are a waste of time. Team building activity for the sake of having an activity does no one any good. There must be a purpose.

Facilitation great activities are facilitated by individuals who know not only how to administer the activity, but know how to bring it all together, to combat push back and ensure the activity lands the message it is intended to land. The right facilitator can make or break these activities.

A Visual Reminder after the activity people will be energized for a few days. Over time, work and life happens and people will forget the important lessons learned during your time together. For that reason, our activities always provide a visual that can be hung up in the office or kept on an intranet as a constant reminder of the time spent and the outcomes that decided how we were all going to work together going forward.

We often hear from leaders who say they have conducted team building activities and they didn’t work. They are an easy thing to get wrong. The steps and ideas we have outlined here are all part of a very thorough process that ensures the best teams are hired and become productive. In startup and small business life, the alternative can be costly.

Getting this right means less time doing it over. It means that teams are productive faster. It means quickly building a team bond that in startup life, which can be chaotic and uncertain, will be the glue that holds it all together. Small businesses can not afford to not do this. Throwing teams together and hoping for the best rarely works for long. Being deliberate in these areas is a long term strategy for small businesses who think big.

*We are certified in Hogan Assessments and in administering the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

Subscribe to get more details about building great team dynamics!

* indicates required



post

Encouraging Risk-Taking in Your Employees

Encouraging Risk-Taking in Your EmployeesI have two newish clients who are embarking on very similar journeys. Both are international companies launching their business, or as spin-off, in the states for the first time. Both have decided to launch in California, because if you can get the people stuff right in CA, you can get it right anywhere and both have called my team in to help get them all setup from a compliance and strategic infrastructure (culture/engagement) perspective.

I mentioned last week about the use of pre-employment personality assessments. I am using Hogan Assessments with both groups to understand how potential employees may act in common workplace situations.

A big talking point for both companies is risk taking. All companies have a different view on risk taking, but for both of these companies, employees need to be risk takers. Both are in the tech space, well funded and have aggressive goals for getting their product to market. They need employees who are confident in their abilities and will take risks to move things forward. This isn’t the case for every position, but for the ones where it matters, candidates who are not risk takers may not fare well.

Luckily for these businesses we are able to assess and have these conversations with candidates prior to hire, but for leaders who have already made the hire and now realize they have a non-risk taker in a role that really calls for one, can risk taking be taught? The answer is a bit complicated but I’ll try to explain.

First, let me say that I don’t think you can change someone’s natural propensity to take risks. I believe everyone has an innate level of risk they are comfortable with. Couple that with the way they were raised and past experience around risk taking and by the time we reach adulthood we are pretty settled in our risk comfort level. I do think, however, that risk taking can be encouraged…and that is the biggest thing leaders can do.

Create a Safe Space
One of the things that both leaders I am working with are doing is ensuring that candidates know from conversation one that risk taking is encouraged and expected. The environment they create for employees asks them to take risks in their work and rewards the behavior even if the risk results in failure.

Make it Ok to Fail
This is a big one. Employees may feel comfortable taking risks, but if they know they will be criticized or worse if that risk fails, even the most risk agreeable will hold back. Risk taking has to be rewarded in the face of failure. Leaders must strike a balance between dealing with the failure in a way that doesn’t discourage employees fron taking risks in the future.

Model the Behavior
If leaders want to employ risk takers they must be one themselves. Modeling the behavior you expect is the bet way to encourage not only risk taking, but any other characteristic you encourage in employees. If employees can see leaders take risks and fail they are much more likely to be willing to do it themselves.

Risk taking as a common characteristic in environments that need it can be a difference maker. It is a characteristic that is easy to identify in the pre-hire phase with the right assessment or interview questions. It’s also an easy characteristic to model and encourage for the leader who is willing to make it a priority.

Do you work in a company where risk taking is necessary? How do you or your leaders encourage employees to take risks?

Managing HR or Recruiting in a small business? Join our mailing list to get survival tips delivered to your inbox.


 

post

Do Your Employees Really Have Autonomy?

Do Your Employees Really Have Autonomy?A common conversation I have with small business leaders centers around the idea of autonomy. How much authority is given to employees to do their work the way they see fit? Autonomy in it’s most simple definition is independence. How much independence do employees have?

In my experience, leaders and employees often answer this question very differently.

In many small businesses, autonomy is a selling feature for potential candidates. One of the cool things about these environments is that things are moving so quickly that leaders often don’t have the time to micromanage. They also know they need employees who have expertise they don’t have to get the work done which naturally leads to more autonomy. Especially in the very early stages, these environments are rich for highly autonomous work.

But often, the independence gets stripped away.

Maybe it’s by the leader who wants to be copied on every email. Or the one who wants his employee to “check in” at least once a day with project updates. There are always reasons why this is necessary – at least in the leader’s mind.

Or the leader who gets angry when an employee decides to work from home instead of the shared space. The employee does all the work and is available throughout the day via technology, but the leader is upset they aren’t in the office. No performance issues, just an idea that everyone should work from the office.

Now, let me be clear. There is nothing illegal about having rules around being copied on every email or never being able to work from home. A little defeating maybe, but not illegal. A leader can create almost any rules they want for their business.

But you can’t have those rules and then say that you support an autonomous environment where you trust employees to get the work done.

It reminds me of the Margaret Atwood quote from “The Handmaid’s Tale”.

“A rat in a maze is free to go anywhere, as long as it stays inside the maze.”

Many environments I have both worked in and walk into these days are a bit like a maze. The leader has sculpted visible and invisible walls that employees are not allowed to venture outside of. Some of these walls are necessary, others, not so much. Either way, the more the walls, the less the autonomy. When we do culture work in an environment with these walls, the gap between the level of autonomy a leader thinks they give and the level the employee feels they have is often quite large.

It’s a question worth asking of autonomy is important to you and your recruiting efforts. How much autonomy do we really offer and do our thoughts about what we already offer line up with our employees? It is my thought that autonomy is only going to become more and more important in the years to come. Thinking about where your business sits on the subject now and ensuring those thoughts are carried out into action can only help the business in the long run.

Managing HR or Recruiting in a small business? Join our mailing list to get survival tips delivered to your inbox.


 

post

3 People Related Leadership Challenges Small Businesses Face

3 People Related Leadership Challenges Small Businesses FaceStarting a small business is tough. A founder has to figure out all the in’s and out’s of running a business while somehow keeping themselves afloat financially. From offering a viable product or service to finding customers to finding the right systems, every aspect of a small business has to be considered and dealt with quickly.

And then you hire employees.

At times more stressful than the customer side of owning a business, is the people side. Hiring, motivating, training, paying and sometimes firing employees is draining on even the most organized and skilled among us. In our work with startups and small businesses who are experiencing growth that creates a need to hire, sometimes a high volume of candidates, we have uncovered three people related challenges that seem to pop up over and over.

Hiring First, Thinking Later
I’m a big fan of this philosophy and follow it in most areas of my business. Jump first, build the parachute on the way down. It serves many of us well as entrepreneurs. Until it comes to hiring people. Founders find themselves needing help and leap before they think. They will hire a family member or someone they think can do the job without thinking about how it should work out. And by work out I mean both the basics around how they will get paid and what laws have to be considered as well as the more advanced around hiring structures and performance management.

Too Many Layers
The amount of instances in which this challenge creeps up is astounding. A 20 person businesses does not need three layers of managers. It doesn’t. I will fight to the death on this one. This typically happens because a family member or friend was hired and wanted an executive title. Then someone decided they needed a team and that team needed a layer in the middle. Before you know it you have a whole lot of “managers” who really aren’t managing anything. This leads to so many complications such as pay disparity, general lack of continuity and ego based decisions.

Here is what I have seen work best. Everyone reports to a founder(s) until the founder(s) can no longer effectively manage everyone, then another leader(s) is hired or promoted. Only adding leaders as necessary and being very clear in the division of duties when new leaders are appointed. Beyond that, layers are only added after intense discussion and when everyone agrees that it makes the most sense. Leaders shouldn’t be added because someone thinks they need a leadership title. They should be added when it makes business sense.

Not Thinking Long Term
I have a new client from another country who is bringing their product to the US for the first time. During our first call they asked me what types of activities we could do around culture and building the type of environment they felt was important. Before we talked about a payroll system or the vacation policy, we talked about culture.

From the moment a business hires it’s first employee, it is creating an environment for employees to work within. The business can either be deliberate about it or let what happens happen. Either way, 3 years from now an environment will have been created. If a founder gets caught up in today and doesn’t at least think about a few months and years down the road, something may be created that they aren’t happy with.

And undoing that can be nearly impossible.

There are many other challenges that businesses face, like growing too fast or not dealing with issues swiftly, but these are the three that seem to hit small businesses on a regular basis. The people side of the business should be taken as seriously as the customer side. It should be as well thought out and planned as the product of service you are offering. Leaving people matters to chance may work for 1 in a million new businesses. Not sure that’s a chance I would be willing to take.

post

Employment At Will Doesn’t Equal Fire At Will

Employment At Will Doesn't Equal Fire At WillOn a regular basis, I have a conversation with a CEO around employment at will. They have an employee who is not performing and when I tell them they need to start documentation they always respond with the same question. “But we employ at will right? So I can fire anytime.”

Not exactly.

In technical terms, sure. You can fire at will. In legal terms, employment at will doesn’t defend you from a lawsuit. Even if the lawsuit is bogus, it certainly won’t protect you from the cost to defend the suit. Courts may still side with an employee if they feel they were discriminated against because of any protected class or if they were harassed, even in an employment at will situation.

But Sabrina, what about probationary periods?

Sorry to say that those don’t really mean anything. Probationary periods started as a milestone for new hires to receive certain benefits, like healthcare or 401(k). Make it past your 90 days and we’ll give you this or that type of deal. While they were adapted to say that either party could terminate employment within the first 90 days with or without cause, the previous paragraph still applies. Just because you terminate within a probationary period does not mean you are not susceptible to potential litigation.

So what is an employer to do? Well allow me to beat my drum for a moment while I sing you the song I sing to clients every single day.

Hire Right
Have a hiring process in place and follow it consistently. Think about the characteristics that are necessary to be successful in this job and ask the right questions to find out if the candidate in front of you possesses them.

Often times the interview process is rushed, or there is no real process and poor decisions are made resulting in performance that is less than stellar rather quickly. Regardless of how quickly this shows up, documentation is key to supporting a termination.

Document, Document, Document
I know operational leaders get sick of hearing this from their HR team, but the reality is documentation is key to mitigating any legal risk. After my post last week about email, a conversation on Twitter started about how email can be used in legal cases. That isn’t to suggest that we use email as a way to document performance, but it is to say that lawyers and courts love documentation.

Any performance issue should be well documented especially if they lead to termination. Unfortunately, there is just no getting around it.

Check Your Leadership
I don’t want to say bad employees are caused by bad leaders, but sometimes, bad employees are caused by bad leaders. It could be that the manager has high and unreasonable expectations or that they are just a bear to work for. There have been a number of times in my career where seemingly high quality employees turn into performance issues and sometimes it has stemmed from a poor leader.

We are often quick to defend our leaders, but it is at least an important point to check.

So while most are “at will” employers, firing at will doesn’t come without it’s risks. No termination process is 100% risk free from litigation but following the steps above (especially point number 2) can help mitigate that risk and make sure your termination process is as succinct and maybe more importantly, humane as possible.

post

Employee Email Pitfalls Small Businesses Should Avoid

As much as we all lament it’s existence, email is still a primary tool for communicating in the workplace. At least once a day I get asked for my email address by someone wanting to send me information. It is the one tab that is open the most on my web browser. Even though I have other outlets to communicate with my clients, it is still the most used (although text is a close second).

It is the double edged sword we can not live without….yet anyway.

If there were ever a place where you think email could be used less, it would be in small businesses. A small group of people could surely get by communicating face to face, in text or via a social channel like Slack right?

While I do find these other channels being used more and more by my smaller clients versus my larger ones (and large in my world means 200+ employees), email is still King when it comes to employee communication. Because of that, and because I am often copied on said emails, I have a few employee email pitfalls I see leaders falling into every day. See if any of these ring true in your workplace.

Not Knowing How to Use Email
One of the most common pitfalls I see is leaders not knowing which conversations are appropriate for email and which would be better suited for face to face (or at least phone) conversation. This often stems from leaders feeling uncomfortable having difficult conversations verbally. Some of the time however, it was just that email was convenient at the time or the leader wanted to get communication out right away and wasn’t able to do it face to face at that moment.

Important communication, direct feedback and changes to how someone does their work should always be communicated in person. If documentation is necessary, communicate in person first and then follow up in email.

Too Many Emails
We all have that one person in our career who relies on email a little too much. We wake up in the morning to have numerous notes from them only to proceed through our day receiving many more. Most of these emails were unnecessary – when I email thanks, you do not have to respond with you’re welcome, you just don’t. Some should have been conversations (see point one above) and others are infuriatingly micromanaging, which is exactly the type of leader I see falling into this pitfall the most.

Too many emails that spell out what you want an employee to do, how to do it and then following up on whether they did it is not only frustrating from an inbox standpoint but from a work environment one as well. Check the number of emails you are sending employees in a day and see if you might be guilty of too many messages. You either trust your people to do the work, or you don’t. And if you don’t, more email will not solve the problem.

Not Checking Your Tone
I have this habit of receiving a text or email from my husband and immediately responding with “are you being shitty?” I’m happy to report that 90% of the time he responds with no. We’ve been married for nearly 15 years, sometimes it is a definite yes, but I digress. The point is that even after 15 years of marriage I still can’t discern his tone 100% of the time if he is communicating electronically.

If I can’t always tell my husband’s tone, your employees can’t tell yours. Re-reading emails is crucial to seeing if there are words that could be misconstrued or a tone that you may have not meant when writing it. Of course, if there is a chance that no matter how you change it up it could still be misunderstood, then again I point you to the first pitfall above.

We are all guilty of replying and hitting send before we ever actually think about what we want to say and how we want to say it and that creates a lot of unnecessary miscommunication.

Letting Email Conversations Go On Too Long
This one is my pet peeve. I have said for years and years that is an email conversation takes more than 3-5 emails to resolve, it’s time to get everyone in a room and have a face to face. Going back and forth in email is ripe for miscommunication and someone dropping the ball. People are going to check out of the conversation, agreements or next steps may never be fully addressed and eventually, people just get so fed up with the process they react angrily to whatever is being said.

As a leader if you see an email conversation going on too long, it is on you to get everyone together face to face or on a call to resolve the issue.

Email isn’t going away. It will be a high traffic mode of communication for many years to come. It doesn’t have to be a painful process or a thorn in everyone’s side if we all become a little more mindful of how to use it properly.

What is your biggest email pet peeve?

Managing HR or Recruiting in a small business? Join our mailing list to get survival tips delivered to your inbox.


post

Why Challenging Employees May Be Good For Them

Why Challenging Employees May Be Good For ThemAs most of you know SHRM17 is happening this week in New Orleans. I am missing it for the first time in years and have a serious case of FOMO. To ease my jealousy a bit I have been religiously following the Twitter stream. If you aren’t following along and you are in HR, you are missing out. Period.

One of the speakers I was most disappointed to miss was Kat Cole. I have followed her for a while and anytime I get a chance to read something she has written, watch an interview or just generally learn more about her I do. So naturally, I was starting at the computer yesterday focused on gleaning the best tweets filled with her wisdom.

And I wasn’t disappointed.

After her session I asked attendees what stuck with them the most from her talk and this tweet was one that came back.

It’s rather powerful no? Here’s why.

A call I get at least once a week from leaders in small businesses centers around the fact that they have to challenge an employee, ironically enough it’s usually a leader on their team, and they want to know how to approach the conversation. This challenge isn’t always negative feedback about that employee’s performance. More often than not, it’s challenging the way they are thinking about their work, a decision they made for their team or their individual leadership style.

Let me give you an example.

Last year a CEO who had given her leaders a very loose leash when it came to making business decisions for their individual team had a leader go a little rogue with compensation. She felt, and so did I for that matter, that he had been making compensation increase decisions based on his affinity towards a person rather than true performance. He had also been a bit all over the map when offering salaries to new employees, presumably based on his personal affinity towards them.

Not only was this affecting the crazy range of compensation on his team, but it was affecting how he worked with employees and how he allowed other leaders to interact with them. If another leader had constructive criticism for one of his “favorites” a rather angry discussion would ensue where he would defend their actions or words. His behavior was creating a divide among his peers and alienating the “not so favored” members of his team.

His work performance was on par. The discussion that needed to take place had nothing to do with how he worked, but more a slippery slope that his CEO and boss saw that he clearly didn’t. I wish we had Kat Cole’s statement back then because it is perfect for this situation.

The reality is tough conversations are never easy. Challenging someone on something is not fun. Sometimes though, that challenge has to happen to make them better. Especially when we are talking about leaders. Especially, especially when we see someone going down a bad path that they may not recognize themselves.

We have to be confident in our ability to do this as leaders. We can use Kat’s approach and explain that we are challenging because not doing so means we are failing you. However we approach it, we have to approach it.

As I read through the tweet stream, one thing that is clear is that there is a ton of pressure on leaders to do lots of different things, communicating often and appropriately being chief of them. That communication can’t always be positive. Much of the onus on leaders when it comes to communication is sharing the good and the not so good.

It may be exactly what your employee needs to hear.

Managing HR or Recruiting in a small business? Join our mailing list to get survival tips delivered to your inbox.