Being in the wrong job feels terrible. It’s not unlike being in the wrong romantic relationship, group of friends, or neighborhood. We feel misplaced. Everything is a struggle. Feeling like we don’t fit and can’t be successful is one of the worst feelings in the world.
The ideal situation is for an underperforming employee to decide to move on. But when this doesn’t happen, managers need to help employees make a change.
The first step in helping an underperforming employee move on to something where s/he can be more successful is to accept that giving negative feedback and managing employee performance is not unkind. When managers have an underperforming employee, they often think it isn’t nice to say something. Managers don’t want to hurt employees’ feelings or deal with their defensive reactions. In fact, when we help someone move on to a job that she will enjoy and where she can excel, we do the employee a favor. We set her free from a difficult situation that she was not able to leave out of her own volition.
I get asked the question “how do I know when it’s time to let an employee go?” a lot.
Here’s what I teach managers in our managing employee performance training programs: There are four reasons employees don’t do what they need to do:
- They don’t know how.
- They don’t think they know how.
- They don’t want to.
- They can’t. Even with coaching and training, they don’t have the ability to do what you’re asking.
Numbers one and two are coachable. With the right training and coaching employees will likely be able to do what you’re asking them to do.
Numbers three and four are less coachable and are likely not trainable.
When you’re confronted with someone who simply can’t do what you need them to do, it’s time to help the person make a change.
The way you discover whether or not someone can do something is to:
- Set clear expectations
- Observe performance
- Train, coach, and give feedback
- Observe performance
- Train, coach and give feedback
- Observe performance
- Train, coach and give feedback
Welcome to management.
After you’ve trained, coached and given feedback for a period of time, and the person still can’t do what you’re asking her to do, it’s time to make a change.
Making a change does not mean firing someone. You have options:
- Take away responsibilities the person can’t do well and give him other things that he can do well.
- Rotate the person to a different job.
Firing someone is always a last resort.
Sometimes we get too attached to job descriptions. The job description outlines a specific responsibility that the person can’t do. So we fire the person versus considering, who else in the organization can do that task? Be open minded. If you have a person who is engaged, committed, and able to do most of her job, be flexible and creative. Give away parts of the job to someone who can do them well. I’ve also seen employees who were failing, thrive in a different job. Organizations that are flexible survive; organizations that are rigid do not.
Let’s say you’ve stripped away the parts of the job that an underperforming employee can do well and she still can’t perform effectively. Now it’s time to make a change.
Here are some words to use when having the difficult ‘it’s time to move on’ conversation:
“I really want you on my team and to be successful in our organization. Over the past six months, we’ve had several conversations about the parts of your job that are a struggle. We’ve taken away responsibilities that aren’t a fit for you and have replaced those responsibilities with things that seemed like a better fit. And yet I can see that you are still struggling. I’m very sorry to say that it’s not appropriate for you to continue to working here. Today is your last day.” Depending on your organizational culture, can also say, “How do you want to handle this? You can resign or we can let you go. I’ll do whatever feels more comfortable for you.”
This is a difficult conversation that no manager wants to have. Yet I promise you, this conversation feels better to your employee than suffering in a job in which s/he can’t be successful. After you’ve set expectations, observed performance, and coached and given feedback repeatedly, letting someone go is kinder than letting the employee flounder in a job in which he cannot be successful.
I’m taking golf lessons, which should frighten anyone within 100 feet. Every time the instructor explains something new, he asks me, “Does that make sense?” “Does that make sense” is a common clarifying question, that many managers, trainers, and instructors ask, but it’s not a good question for two reasons.
Reason number one: If an explanation doesn’t make sense to me, I’m the idiot for not ‘getting it.’ It’s not that the instructor hasn’t been clear, I just ‘didn’t get it.’
Reason number two: The question doesn’t force me to speak. “Does that make sense” is like asking a shopper in a store, “Can I help you?” We all know the right answer to that question is, “No, I’m just looking.” This is a similar to when someone asks, “Are there any questions?” The right answer is “no.” And when people say “no,” the person who asked the question often says, “good,” affirming people for not asking questions and making it less likely that questions will be asked in the future.
Here are some clarifying questions that will force people to talk and won’t make them feel stupid for asking questions. Instead of asking, “Does that make sense,” consider asking:
- So I know I’ve been clear, tell me what you heard me say.
** This may sound harsh and like micromanaging in writing, but the questions can be asked in a supportive and non-judgmental manner.
- Just so I know how I landed, what do you think I’m asking/expecting you to do?
- What do you think you need to do?
- What are you planning to do?
I was talking with one of my clients a few months ago. She was very upset because she told one of her employees what to do and he didn’t do it. Frustrated, she said, “He knew what to do, and he didn’t do it.” I asked her, “How do you know that he knew what to do?” She replied, “I told him what to do and when I asked if he had any questions, he said no.”
Her situation is a common one. The right answer to “do you have any questions” is “no.” And we’re surprised when we swing by the person’s desk two weeks later to get a status update on the project, and he hasn’t started working on it yet.
Here are some additional examples of clarifying questions and delegation questions. These questions will force people to speak, providing a clearer sense of what people know and are likely to do.
- What questions do you have?
- What are you planning to do first? If the person answers this question appropriately, ask what he is planning to do next. If he doesn’t answer the question appropriately, step in and give more direction.
Provided you trust that the person knows what to do, give a tight deadline and ask to review the person’s work in a few days. Give people some freedom, but not enough to waste a lot of time and go down a fruitless path. Delegation is something few managers do well and the root of many missed deadlines and frustrations in the workplace.
The golf instructor should be asking me:
- What did you learn today?
- What are you planning to do as a result of what we’ve covered?
- What techniques did I ask you to follow?
- Let me see how that form looks?
- What questions do you have for me?
If he asks me these clarifying questions and forces me to do the things he is asking me to do, he will know what I know and am likely to do on the golf course. All he knows right now is that I’m poking fun of him in a blog post.
Figuring out if a candidate will like and can do a job is fairly straight forward, figuring out if a candidate will like working in your organization is much harder.
A clear and specific job description should tell a candidate whether or not a job’s responsibilities are things she can and wants to do. What’s much harder to determine is whether or not the candidate is a good culture fit with the organization. Will she be comfortable working with the organization’s employees and in the organization’s culture, and will other employees be comfortable working with her? It’s hard to figure that out during a 60 or 90-minute conversation, during which both interviewers and interviewees are on their best behavior.
Some companies use personality assessments to assess culture fit. Others have lots of people meet with candidates. I’m fond of the job shadow interview, which very few companies do.
If you’re really serious about a candidate, why not invite her to spend a day or a half day in your office participating in a job shadow interview. Candidates can attend meetings, have lunch, hang out in the break room and hallways, and meet fellow employees during the job shadow interview. Candidates and employees are more likely to let their guard down and be themselves outside of a formal job interview. You want to know the person you hire as well as possible. You don’t want to hire someone who turns out to be very different once she actually starts.
Hiring and training new employees is the most costly thing most businesses do, so slow down and invest more time. Before you make a candidate an offer, ask the candidate if she would be willing to spend half a day in your office participating in a job shadow interview. That invitation could sound something like, “We really like you and think you’d be a great fit. Before we make you an offer, we wonder if you’d be willing to spend an afternoon (or a day), sitting in on some meetings and job shadowing a potential peer. Would you be interested in doing that?”
Candidates, you’re interviewing and assessing an organization just as the people in the organization are interviewing and assessing you. You won’t be successful or stay in a job very long if you don’t feel at home in the culture. If a hiring manager makes you an offer and you are seriously considering it, ask to job shadow interview for a half or full day. That request could sound something like, “Thank you so much for the job offer. I’m very excited about the possibility of working for you! I want to be sure that I’m a great fit and vice versa. How would you feel if I spent a morning or afternoon attending a few meetings and job shadowing someone on the team? This will give me an even better sense of the organization and make sure this is a great decision for both of us. What do you think?” I can’t imagine any employer outside of those working on government, classified information saying no.
Taking the wrong job and hiring the wrong candidate is costly. Slow down and make better hiring decisions by giving candidates a chance to experience your culture with a job shadow interview, when people aren’t on their best behavior. You’ll make better hiring decisions and save lots of time and money in the process.
The people you live and work with are hesitant to give you negative feedback. They’re afraid you’ll freak out, and they don’t want to deal your freak out. It’s easier to say nothing.
When I started teaching how to give and receive feedback, I provided elaborate explanations as to the predictable response to feedback and the rationale for that response. Now I’ve boiled the natural response to receiving feedback into three words: The Freak Out.
Every person you know personally and professionally wants to be liked and approved of. Even the people in your office who you think are lazy want you to think they do good work. And when anyone calls another person’s competence into question, that person is likely to freak out (become defensive).
It’s very difficult not to get at least a little bit defensive when receiving feedback. A defensive response often sounds something like, “Thanks for the telling me that. Can I tell you why I did it that way?” The problem with that slightly defensive response is that what the other person hears is, “You’re not listening. I am wasting my time talking to you.” Then the conversation quickly ends. People want to feel heard. And when the feedback recipient becomes defensive, the person giving feedback doesn’t feel heard.
Don’t feel badly about becoming defensive when you receive negative feedback. Becoming defensive when receiving bad news just means you’re a living, breathing human being with feelings. That beats the alternative. But The Freak Out scares people. They don’t want to deal with your mild, moderate, or very defensive reactions.
Because people want to avoid The Freak Out, they keep negative feedback to themselves or worse, tell someone else. If you want more truth, you need to make it clear there won’t be negative repercussions for speaking up.
Here are seven steps to get others comfortable giving you negative feedback:
1. Ask for feedback
2. Be specific about the type of feedback you want.
3. Tell the person from whom you’re asking for feedback when and where she can observe you in action.
- A bad example of asking for feedback: “I really want your feedback. Feel free to give it anytime.” This is too vague and doesn’t demonstrate seriousness on your part.
- A good example of asking for feedback: “I really want your feedback on the pace of the new hire orientation program. Will you sit through the first hour next Wednesday at 9:00 a.m., and tell me what you think of the pace and why?” This request tells the person specifically what you want and demonstrates you’re serious about wanting her feedback.
4. When you receive feedback say, “Thank you for telling me. I’m going to think about what you’ve said and may come back to you in a few days to talk more.”
5. Don’t respond to negative feedback immediately. Walk away instead of responding.
6. If you’d like more information or want to tell the person you disagree with what she said, wait until you’re calm to have that conversation.
7. You can express a counter point of view, you just can’t do it immediately after you receive the feedback.
No matter what a person’s role in your life – your boss, a peer, external customer, or even spouse – it takes courage to give you feedback. When a conversation requires courage, the speaker’s emotions are heightened. If the feedback recipient’s emotions rise in response to the feedback, conversations escalate. This is how arguments start. If you want to put the other person at ease and get more feedback in the future, do the opposite of what she is expecting. Rather than getting even the slightest bit defensive, do the opposite. Say, “Thank you for the feedback. I’m sorry you had that experience. I’m going to think about what you’ve said, and may come back to you to talk more.” Then walk away.
Walking away, when all you want to do is react, is very difficult. Walking away will require a good deal of self control, but the rewards are great. You will build trust, strengthen your relationships, and get more information than you have in the past, information you need to manage your career, reputation and business.
This funny communication skills training video provides the words to tell someone they smell, that there is too much cleavage at work, and that there is no texting in the workplace. Giving feedback doesn’t have to be hard.
About fifteen years ago, I worked with a woman with whom I didn’t get along. We were on the same team and had the same job, but didn’t see eye to eye on how to approach work or solve problems. And when we didn’t agree, things got ugly. I have to admit to being afraid of her. She was nasty when things didn’t go her way.
The odd thing is that socially, we did fine. When our team socialized outside of work, we had fun and got along well. That’s when I realized that there was no correlation between getting along outside of work and working well together.
Lots of teams go bowling, to baseball games, and out for happy hour as corporate team building activities. And while team members may enjoy being together at these events and get to know each other better personally, they don’t learn team members’ working style preferences, the work others are really good at, and the things at which team members are not as good.
Go bowling or out for happy hour, just don’t expect people to work better together after doing those activities. If you want to do corporate team building activities, give team members a chance to learn about each other and themselves, and make agreements of how team members will work together in the future. Create occasions for candor.
When I lead corporate team building activities, I put people in small groups, give the group a box of Candor Questions to Say Anything to Anyone, and time to answer the questions. One person in the group asks one question from the box. Everyone in the group answers that person’s question. The person who asked the question then answers his own question. Then another person on the team asks a question and so on. A great conversation always ensues.
People talk about things they should have and wished they’re talked about when they started working together. Team members learn about each others’ work style preferences and what each person needs from both the job and each other. But most importantly, team members have permission to talk about things they normally don’t, and begin to create a climate of candor, which is essential for any group of people working together. For a team to work well together, it must be safe to tell the truth. Teams need to talk about the things that impact them most –each other.
So go bowling and out for happy hour. But also create opportunities for team members to talk about the things that matter most –how they impact each other at work.
You’ve either seen the video or heard about the group think that happened before NASA’s Challenger exploded in 1986. One engineer felt strongly that there was a defect in the Challenger’s design. He spoke up, others disagreed. He continued to speak up, until it became very uncomfortable to do so.
Most employees don’t even get that far. Many employees are afraid to speak up at all, feeling that it’s not ok to have a counter point of view, and that those who disagree with ‘management’ are eventually fired. I honestly am not sure where this comes from. It hasn’t been my experience, and yet the fear of speaking up is pervasive. I hear it in almost every organization with which I work.
If it’s not ok to express different opinions, your organization will deliver the same-old products and services you always have. If staying the same works in your industry, great. But stagnation is a killer to most organizations.
If you want more innovation in the workplace, you have to make it safe to speak up and offer a different point of view. Saying new, different, and even controversial things must be encourage and rewarded.
Five Ways to Encourage Innovation In the Workplace:
- Ask for new ideas and different points of view.
- Wait until you get both. Don’t allow a meeting or discussion to move on until you get new, opposing, and different points of view.
- Positively acknowledge people who risk and say something new or different from the norm.
- Ensure people with new ideas and different points of view are allowed to finish speaking before they’re interrupted or before someone else tries to negate their ideas.
- Create a few new awards in your organization and announce winners publicly and with great fanfare. You get what you reward.
Create Awards to Encourage Innovation In the Workplace:
- Acknowledge the person who fails massively trying something new.
- Award the person who brings new ideas to the table, regardless of what happens to those ideas.
- Celebrate the person who willingly gives you the worst news.
The fear of speaking up and saying something new or different will kill your innovation efforts. It will also kill your employees’ ambition and ability to be creative. Make it safe to tell the truth, even when the truth is hard to understand or unpopular, and see what happens to innovation, creativity, and employee productivity and morale.
It’s hard to watch people do things that damage them – personally or professionally. And yet, if they haven’t asked for feedback, people likely won’t listen to unsolicited advice, so don’t bother giving it.
If you really want to give unsolicited advice, ask for permission and make sure you get a true “yes” before speaking up.
The conversation could go something like this:
“I noticed we’re getting behind on the XYZ project. I have a couple of ideas about what we can do. Would you be interested in talking about them?” Or, “That Monday meeting is rough. I feel for you. I used to run meetings like that. Would you be interested in talking about some meeting management strategies? I’d be happy to share what I’ve learned.”
After you offer to talk (aka, give your opinion), listen and watch the response you get. Does the person’s words and body language portray a true “yes, I’d like your opinion” or what seems like an “I’m supposed to say yes” reply? If you get the latter, you’re likely just giving unwanted advice that won’t be heard. If that’s the case, let it go. But if the person appears generally interested and open, proceed.
You could also say something like:
“Last week we were talking about your frustrations about not being promoted. I have a couple of ideas about that. Do you want to talk about them? Either way is fine, but I thought I’d offer.”
Or, “That was a tough conversation during today’s staff meeting. It’s hard to present ideas and not have them be embraced. I have a couple of thoughts about ways you can approach the conversation during the next meeting. Want to talk about them?”
If you make the invitation to talk, the other person has to be able to say no. An invitation is only an invitation if no is an acceptable answer. You can’t ask if the person wants your input and then keep talking even if he verbally or physically said no.
Be brave. If you care about someone personally or professionally and you see him doing something that gets in the way of his success, ask permission to say something. If you get the go ahead, proceed. If you get a “no thank you,” accept that and move on. You’ve done your part.
Read How to Say Anything to Anyone, and get the words to have even the toughest conversations.
Employees leave managers not jobs. We’ve all heard this 100 times.
One of the most prevalent reasons for employee turnover is boredom and lack of growth. We’ve also heard this many times.
We know why employees leave jobs. The question is what must managers do to engage and retain their best people. The answer is actually quite simple, although possibly not easy to execute.
Employees want to know that their manager:
- Knows them
- Cares about and is invested in their careers
- Gives feedback so they can improve
- Provides opportunities so they can develop
In other words, employees need attention, and attention requires time, time many managers may not feel they have.
Here is a five-step formula for employee retention and employee engagement:
- Get to know employees better and differently
- Have meaningful, one-on-one meetings [at least] monthly
- Give feedback every time you meet
- Ask for and be open to feedback
- Create opportunities for employees to do the work that interests them most
Managers, how do you make time for these meetings when are busy and have several direct reports?
- Meet for 15-30 minutes
- Meet over the phone while commuting or waiting for flights
- Ask direct reports to create an agenda and run the meetings
- Ask direct reports to send follow-up notes of decisions and plans made during meetings. Give some of the accountability away.
- If meetings get cancelled, reschedule as soon as possible. Direct reports take cancelled meeting personally. Cancelled meetings, that are not rescheduled, send the message that managers don’t care about employees and their careers.
Employees, if your manager doesn’t schedule meetings with you:
- Ask permission to put a monthly meeting on your manager’s calendar
- Provide rationale for why you want to meet–to get your manager’s feedback and ensure you’re focused on the right work
- Ask permission to reschedule meetings when they get cancelled
- Don’t take cancelled meetings personally
- Offer to meet with your manager via the phone when it’s convenient for him/her. Leverage commute and travel time.
Employees need time with their managers. Meaningful discussions and work result in employee engagement and employee retention, so managers, make the time, even when you don’t feel you have it. Ask questions you don’t ask now. Give feedback, even if it’s uncomfortable. Give your employees an opportunity to do the work that interests them most. And watch your employee engagement and employee retention improve. And if your manager doesn’t do these things, politely and persistently ask. You won’t get what you don’t ask for. We are all 100% accountable for our careers.
When I landed my first ‘real’ job after graduating from college I was so scared, I almost turned the job down. It took me five years to finish my first book, How to Say Anything to Anyone, in part because I was afraid no one would like it.
It seems anything worth doing is worth fearing.
I’m not talking about taking risks for the sake of risk –driving as fast as your car can take you, not paying your bills to see what will happen, or offering a counter point of view at work for the sake of doing so. I’m talking about pursuing the things you really want, that speak to your true purpose.
Being afraid doesn’t mean you can’t do something, nor does it mean that you shouldn’t. Feeling some fear just means what you want is outside of what you know you can do. But it’s the edge and the unknown that is juicy and rich.
During the past two years I’ve been pursuing things I’m terrified of, that I don’t know I can do. Yet I want these things, so I pursue them in the face of fear. And I have to admit, that as I get closer to getting what I want, the fear doesn’t dissipate, it actually gets worse . As I can almost taste having what I want, I get more scared. And sometimes I pull back, thinking, maybe I don’t really won’t those things. Maybe I was wrong. Then I remember why I want what I want and step back into the pursuit, despite the fear.
Don’t misinterpret fear as a reason not to do something.
A few suggestions for how to face your fears at work:
1. Write your desires down and/or tell people what you want.
- You’re more likely to get what you talk about having.
2. Take one step towards having what you want.
- Talk to someone who either has what you want or can help you get what you want.
3. Put yourself in the place of most potential, where you can get what you want.
- If you want to work in a certain department, express interest in working on a project that serves that department.
- Tell your boss and people in leadership in your desired work area of your interest.
- Apply for a job in that area.
4. Be positive and persistent.
- No one wants to give a complainer an opportunity, and takes time to make a shift.
The key is to take one step, then another, then another. And when you feel fear, don’t let it stop you. Fearing the next job or opportunity doesn’t mean you can’t do it well, it just means you haven’t done it yet.
When you need encouragement to face your fears, hang our inspiring magnets at your desk. You have to believe in yourself just as much as the people around you believe in you.