The Difficult Conversation Checklist for Managers

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January 31, 2018
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May 4, 2018
Difficult Conversation

If you’ve been a leader or a manager for much time at all, you’ve had to address a difficult job performance issue with an employee. Let’s cut to the chase – here’s my checklist right upfront:

  1. Have a replacement in mind
  2. Meet. Let them know exactly what’s expected of them and where they are falling short. This is strike one. Give them their time to share, but let them know they need to change your opinion with their action.
  3. Set up the next meeting time when you will discuss their progress (typically 30 days).
  4. Have the second meeting. Review expectations. If there is sufficient progress, congratulate them and move on. If not, this is strike two. Set the third meeting date.
  5. If there is still a problem, it should be so clear to the employee that ideally they quit before the third meeting. If you have to have that third meeting, it is to help them transition to another ‘opportunity’ (This is strike three. They need to exit the company.)

So simple, huh?

It can be that simple – but there is a lot of work that goes into having it be that simple:

Replacement? Have a succession plan.

Everyone is replaceable. In fact, given enough time, everyone gets replaced. It is a certainty – so why not prepare for it? Not only is it common sense risk management, it is good for the development of your people and the health of your organization. Have a succession plan for every employee. Be training and developing at every level. Hoarding information is not job security – motivate by telling them: “If you are not training your replacement, you can never be promoted.”

Expectations

What is expected of every employee should be crystal clear.

  1. Core Values. First, an employee must live by the core values of the company – which means the company must have core values. Core values define the culture and the personality of the organization. If someone doesn’t fit, either they don’t feel right working there or their coworkers don’t feel they belong.
  2. Responsibilities. You must be very clear about the major responsibilities they are being held accountable for. At a high level, there should be about five. You can get into more detail in a job description – but try to stay at a high level.
  3. Rocks. Be sure they understand the priorities each quarter. There are many competing priorities – they should know what comes first.
  4. Measurables. Every employee at every level should know how they contribute to the success of the organization with a few objective measurements. If an employee is not meeting objective goals, it should be clear.

Clarity

You can’t have clarity without documentation. All of the expectations must be written down somewhere and reviewed frequently.

  1. Have the company core values documented – preferably in a way that makes it easy to rate the employee against each one. List the core values out and indicate where the employee stands with each one. A plus (+) means they exhibit the core value most of the time. A plus/minus (+/-) means sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. A minus (-) means they don’t exhibit the core value most of the time. With this visual, it will be very clear where they need to improve.
  2. The minimum job description lists the top five responsibilities: “Here are the top 5 things you are responsible for.” Know these for each function in the company. Have them documented right on the org chart.
  3. At the company and departmental level, Rocks (priorities) should be listed and progress checked every week. I recommend these be reviewed every quarter. 90 days is the most manageable chunk for checking in on the most important issues facing the company.
  4. At a minimum, each employee should have one objective measurement of performance and a goal to meet. Record the goal and the actual score on a weekly basis so you can see trends.

Bonus Tip: When meeting, sit on the same side of the table.

You are in this together. Actually look at the documented expectations from the same side of the table – together. This is the way to frame the partnership: you are here to help them meet the expectations. The expectations are the ‘objective third party’ so to speak. You are saying “Let’s take a look at where you need to be and you can tell me how I can help you get there.”

From the EOS book “How to be a Great Boss”: Your people are your number one competitive advantage. Ultimately, you are accountable for their performance or the lack thereof. When you are clear and continually raise the bar, a potential side effect is turnover. Done right, this is good turnover. Good turnover gets you more of what you want from your business while diminishing the things you don’t want: frustration, dysfunction, politics, whining and stagnation.

Focus. Be clear.

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