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Difficult Conversation

Managers, the Goal for Difficult Workplace Conversations is not Personal Comfort…

It’s action and commitment

 

Manager Skills Boot Camp II: Improve your Difficult Conversation skills and more!

 

“An object at rest remains at rest until acted upon by an outside force.”Newton’s First Law

 

Grant is a steady performer; an overall solid team player. Ellen, his supervisor, has given Grant feedback several times that his work lacks attention to detail and the quality is often marginal. Grant’s behavior has not changed, so it’s time to have a difficult conversation that gently provokes him at his edge.

Ellen’s untiring feedback attempts to get Grant to improve have failed. Ellen needs to amplify her expectations and become the outside force. Intensifying one’s tone while being prepared for the consequences naturally stokes levels of stress and anxiety, both for Ellen and Grant.

A critical challenge for Ellen is to appreciate that tension is a resource to gently increase and manage, not avoid. Why? Tension and struggle are the universal energy sources for human growth, change, and transformation. The chick embryo must work and struggle to break free of the eggshell to become a healthy chick.

Grant must experience constant, gentle pressure to understand it’s in his best interest to change. Tension, when harnessed appropriately, creates awareness. Ellen must develop a *safe learning container to leverage the tension in pursuit of Grant’s development. It’s a classic manager’s paradox.

*If managers have not created trusted working relationships with their direct reports, these conversations are often emotionally difficult with messy outcomes.

 

“The challenge for leaders is to disturb or disrupt the movement at the edge to provoke the desired outcome.” -Per Bak, author of How Nature Works

 

Two Outcomes of Turning Comfortable into Uncomfortable

#1 Ideal Outcome: Grant takes 100% responsibility for his sub-par performance and sincerely makes a commitment to change. Most managers report a mere 10-20% success rate with this highly desired outcome. When this level of spirited partnership is achieved, managers call that a great day at work!

On the other hand, being overly attached to this outcome is often driven by the manager’s need for comfort and control. In order for the outcome to be ideal, this need should be relinquished.

#2 Acceptable Outcome: Ellen is leveraging her personal relationship with Grant to persuade him that it’s in his best interest to change. She’s selling, he’s not buying. Now she must pivot from expecting an ideal outcome to an acceptable outcome.

Grant commits to taking concrete and specific actions, including changing his behavior, and understands the consequences if he does not do so. This uncomfortable condition is known as agree to disagree. Ellen must be okay with the fact that he doesn’t share her belief. Her goal is to demand expectations that serve the company, not for her or Grant’s comfort levels.

 

So What Now?

Monitor, Measure and Provide Feedback

Ellen’s previous feedback attempts were based on hoping Grant would change. The Situational Leadership Model instructs Ellen to apply a much more direct style until Grant has made observable behavior changes. Being more direct is not Ellen’s default leadership style, but that’s not important. Ellen’s primary objective is to help develop Grant’s full potential. This is Servant Leadership at its core – the sincere desire to help others be their best. This leadership style says easy, does uncomfortable.

 

Sometimes Acceptable is…Acceptable

Few management situations are more frustrating then having a difficult conversation, especially when the employee digs in and says, “I disagree with your assessment.” Managers must develop the emotional fortitude to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Tension is not a condition to be avoided, but instead, constructively managed towards an acceptable, not perfect, outcome.

 

Keep it simple. Keep it focused. Definitely keep it inspiring! –Steve

 

Manager Skills Boot Camp II: Improve your Difficult Conversation skills and more!

 

Managing a Tone-Deaf Boss Can Feel Like Riding a Cow…

The cow doesn’t want to be ridden and the ride is rough

 

Watch the complimentary webinar: Difficult Workplace Conversations

 

Growing up next to a farm with a tribe of reckless boys, I had lots of painful and failed attempts at riding cows. If you’ve ever tried this, you’d know that it feels pretty similar to “managing up” a tone-deaf boss.

 

Like cows, tone-deaf bosses:

  • Don’t enjoy be ridden (e.g. “managed up”).
  • Ensure the ride is very uncomfortable and possibly risky for you
  • Purposefully attempt to rub you off the fence
  • Will throw you off (Falling off a cow is like falling out of favor with your boss: Bruising and dangerous for your career)

Inversely, in-tune bosses are on high alert for shifting workplace discord and proactively engage team members in sincere two-way dialogue. These bosses are engaged, hands-on, approachable, and biased toward democratic action.

Safety is your #1 goal while riding a cow. The same goes for managing up: The psychological and political perils are many and often hidden.

 

Cow-riding tips and parallels to managing a tone-deaf boss:

Rule #1 – Try to minimize surprising the cow. Cows, like bosses, possess a survivalist brain that easily spooks into fight or flight.

  • Boss Rule: Schedule regular 1:1’s with your boss. I recommend at least 20-30 minutes every week. Provide a clear agenda in advance that is solution-oriented, sensitive to tight budgets, and demonstrates your clarity around key priorities.

Rule #2 – Never attempt to change a cow. A cow has gotten to where it’s at by being a successful cow; bosses too. Nothing yields rigid thinking and outsized egos more than historical success.

  • Boss Rule: Show that your riding attempts will be a win-win. Point directly to the green pastures on the horizon. Your boss needs assurances that your obvious persuasion attempts consider her best interests.

Rule #3 – Cows are stubborn negotiators.  An armful of freshly cut hay usually provides leverage.

  • Boss Rule: Most bosses can be swayed by strategic solutions that support her objectives and the organization’s priorities. Complaining without a clear business plan promotes resistance to your ideas. Just like cows, bosses will simply ignore you, stare you down, or become agitated by your anemic advances.

 

A tone-deaf boss is a major source of frustration for many dedicated employees. There is no ‘grass is greener over the fence’ strategy, but take it from an experienced cow rider: There are trusted rules for what and what not to do.

 

Keep it simple. Keep it focused. Definitely keep it inspiring! –Steve

 

Watch the complimentary webinar: Difficult Workplace Conversations

 

Bad Managers Cost You Money!

Three Actions for Building a Solid Talent Promotion Program

Promoting the right individual to a management role is, arguably, the single most important business decision. Need evidence? Consider Gallup’s research that those managers who meet the criteria of “high levels of talent…contribute about 48% higher profit to their companies than average managers do.”

And yet, smart people get this critical business decision wrong. In fact, Gallup has found that 82% of management hiring/promotion decisions fall short of optimal. Imagine if your business could make 48% higher profits just by choosing the right managers!

Just because an employee is great at coding, sales, customer service, or has been with the organization for 10 years, there is little correlation that these capabilities will contribute to becoming a great manager.  In fact, your organization will lose a great star performer and inherit a mediocre manager – a lose-lose decision.

 

Avoid the common promotion minefields by investing resources in developing a methodical talent promotion program for your organization. Here are three pragmatic actions to counter your current spaghetti-against-the-wall manager promotion approaches!

Action1: Require all managers to formally identify leadership talent, regularly. The accepted truism applies here – “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Management must be visibly committed to this critical initiative. Senior leadership should expect and inspect each manager to advance potential candidate names quarterly, for example.

Action #2: Assess a candidate’s potential against a balanced scorecard type criteria, such as:

  • Key management and leadership competencies
  • Core business values
  • Long-term business strategies

Action #3: Implement distinct talent development pathways, based on assessment ranking.  For example:

  • A “Ready Now,” top-tier candidate – Initiate new manager onboarding and training program. “Strong onboarding processes improve new-hire retention by 82 percent and productivity by over 70 percent” (SHRM, 5/9/2017).
  • A “Could Be Ready,” candidate – Initiate a 60 day Action Learning Project. Real-time business initiatives enable two constructive events: 1) Candidate is provided opportunity to demonstrate skill level in target “gap areas,” and, 2) Manager is able to observe and coach candidate, while receiving feedback on candidate’s potential from involved team members.
  • A “Not Ready” candidate – Provide individual a kind and candid assessment, along with a general development plan. After 12 months, candidate may re-apply for internal promotion. Thank them graciously!

 

Stop using outdated and ineffective reasoning for manager promotions – your business, customers, and team culture will benefit immensely! A wise manager promotion or hire will make your business a lot of money. It makes business sense to invest in a more objective and disciplined talent promotion process. A transparent process also helps mitigate the politics that often surround next-level promotions.

To learn more about promoting the right people, watch this video.  Stay tuned for a webinar on this topic where we will delve into the details of each step, provide resources for implementing organization processes, have live demonstrations, and be ready to answer all your questions!

 

Keep it simple, keep it focused, and definitely keep it inspiring.

-Steve