In my first post on this subject, I shared with my fellow managers and Human Resources professionals the first four of my eight recommended best practices for addressing unacceptable employee behavior and performance. You will remember, from the first post, that they were: 1) Address the concern timely; 2) Don’t make it personal; 3) Remember that you are interacting with another human being; 4) Listen actively.
Today, I am continuing my conversation with other managers and HR professionals by sharing with you my final four best practice recommendations. They are: 5) Address the facts; 6) Don’t lose your “cool;” 7) Don’t be reactionary; and 8) Apply progressive discipline.
• Address the facts. When addressing an employee’s unacceptable behavior and/performance, you should address the facts, not the person. This means that, when you meet with the employee to discuss the situation, you should not call an employee dumb, incompetent, slow, etc. You should also not ask, “Do you understand English?” These are personal attacks that will only escalate the situation and quickly take the discussion nowhere. You can say, “You appear to be distracted by something other than your work.” This type of statement expresses just the appropriate level of concern and empathy, which might open the door to productive communication between you and the employee. If you, the manager, approach the situation in this manner, you will be exhibiting unacceptable behavior just as the employee has. This will not create a favorable impression of you as a manager or HR professional. Instead, make statements of fact, such as, “On Monday, I asked you to develop a graph that represented sales activity of our top-selling product over the past eight weeks. I asked you to have it completed by 12 noon on Wednesday. You did not meet the deadline and you failed to request an extension of the due date before the assignment became due. This is unacceptable.” By describing the issue in this manner, you are sticking to the facts only and no interjecting any personal impressions into the scenario. This way, the employee will unlikely be able to successfully allege any type of unfair treatment towards them. Managers figuratively “shoot themselves in the foot” when they start to insert additional commentary in to the discussion.
• Don’t lose your “cool.” The main key to a productive discussion about behavior and performance is both party’s ability to remain calm and focused. If either party loses their cool, the conversation can quickly go in the wrong direction. And although it is ideal for all involved to remain calm, the manager is held to a higher level of accountability and is expected play the role of de-escalator. The employee may even verbally attack you, but, if you lose your calm, the employee will quickly lose respect for you; likely shut down communications with you; and you will no longer be in a position to keep the conversation focused as you will have lost control of the situation by having undermined your own authority. I typically recommend that managers stop the conversation and reschedule for the next day if they feel themselves about to lose their cool. The last thing that you want to do is to exhibit inappropriate behavior. To do so would move the focus from the employee’s behavior and performance to your behavior and give the employee cause to file a complaint against you. This could also subsequently diminish your authority to address an underperforming, ill-behaving employee’s actions.
• Don’t be reactionary. Remember that when an employee is approached regarding their unacceptable behavior and/or performance, they will likely become defensive. So, you, as the manager, should not be surprised by almost anything that they may say. Please think before you react. You should listen closely, being careful to take note of any statements alleging possible discrimination, harassment, and/or retaliation. If such statements do arise, let the employee know that their concerns are taken seriously, get as many details as possible and consult your organization’s legal department for guidance re: next steps in the process. As an HR Manager, I was once consulted by a department director regarding one of her employee’s behavior and performance. When we met with the employee she shared some actions that had already been taken against her the essentially equated to retaliation. Needless the say, that meeting took an unexpected turn and the decision was made to discipline the director because of her actions. Ironically, the employee received no discipline because we determined that the employee’s behavior and performance issues did not arise until she had been retaliated against and the director had essentially killed her motivation. You don’t want to find yourself in this manager’s shoes.
• Apply progressive discipline. When addressing employee behavior and performance concerns, remember that your goal should be to get the employee to change his/her behavior, not to punish them. With that in mind, do not immediately apply the highest degree disciplinary action. Progressive action typically works best because it gives the employee a gradual nudge in the right direction to get them back on track. Now if the gradual nudge does not effect the desired change(s), you will have to increase the severity of the disciplinary action until, either he/she improves their behavior or performance, or until all options are exhausted and the employee is separated from employment.
The bottom-line is that there is a right way and a wrong way to address employee behavior and performance issues. If you follow the steps outlined in this post and Part I, you will improve communications between you and your employee and exponentially increase your chances of a successful outcome to addressing your employee’s behavior and performance concerns.
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