When I think back to my early days when I had people responsibility in my job I don’t feel good about it. If only anybody had guided me through the process! I could have avoided making so many mistakes. Not knowing how to give feedback to people. Swinging between being too tough or too soft. 

I did not have a process nor a method and it was mainly a trial and error approach.

And this is why I am writing this post today: to make sure YOU don’t run into the same mistakes AND you have a guide to give to your younger employees when they will first start having people management responsibility!

Managers are not born, they are made.

Here is one way to help you become one!

It all starts with Accountability

It’s the element of leadership and management where even the smartest and most well-intentioned managers fall.

Doing accountability well is a skill. It requires paying attention to the little sign and being present and in the moment with your team.

It calls for the best version of yourself, the one who cares about people far more than you care, profit or deadlines. 

I have heard so many times, and I did it myself too, to think that there is no time for feedback, for helping people grow; tasks and deadlines, work, has always priority. 

Until you lose the best team members or if they stay, they lose motivation.

Your best players don’t need a fancy mission statement. They are looking for work environment where everyone is pulling their weight. Everyone is holding themselves responsible. And the managers are holding everyone accountable for their individual part.

What does it mean being accountable? Accountability indicates who is ultimately answerable for the completion of the deliverable; and is the one who delegates the work to those responsible.

The Courage To Have Tough Conversations, With Kindness

It is really not an easy task to find the right balance between being too soft and too hard, to have the tough conversations giving space both to care and to authority. It is like in parenthood, where we went from having too strict parents to having parents that let kids do whatever they wanted. We all know that a middle-ground is the best place to be, but it is hard to find it, to get there and stick with it. 

Ultimately, it takes a lot of planning, being intentional about it, and having a firm commitment in the long run.

As managers, we have gotten comfortable, and a bit lazy, when it comes to the conversations we are having with our team members. And we have the opportunity to challenge this status and find again the courage to have the conversations with our people, allowing them to improve their performances and showing them that we care about them.

We are ultimately accountable for the outcome of their job but we don’t want them just to complete a task, we want them to grow in their roles, encouraging them to work towards a result with minimum guidance and with a lot of creativity from their side. 

Taking the time to manage performance of our teams is a gift, and it is a win-win for both the feedback giver and the receiver. You are both going to grow out of this exchange. In the moment it does not feel great and, in fact, it is not supposed to feel good (check here my post about how to embrace discomfort) – and this is why there is only very few people that will proactively put themselves in situation of discomfort. The rest of us, will need the support of other people around us to help us leaning into these situations. And having a framework and some easy steps I believe can help a great deal! 

You can still be kind and effectively manage performance. 

As many people around the world are forced into working remotely and spend less time in the same office with their managers and subordinates, is this the right moment to find the time for those conversations, which we might have been avoiding recently? 

Let’s see how we can achieve this objective during this social distancing period and deconstruct the process for an easier adoption.

Step #1 – Acknowledge The Bahaviour

This step is about paying attention and taking the time to give feedback to somebody about an attitude or a behaviour that you have observed as being counterproductive and that, if let go without noticing, could be the beginning of a bigger issue.

Timing is essential here:  you should be giving feedback in real time, when it is still fresh and present. Pull an employee informally on the side and share with them what you have observed. Make it an informal chat.

Don’t wait for the next formal meeting nor for the crisis to explore, to make the remark to the employee. This is the first step of accountability and it requires you to get uncomfortable, lean in and speak up.

By making the remark, you start building a relationship of mutual respect. You show that you genuinely care about the person’s growth.

Instead of pretending you didn’t see it, you help them become aware of it, and offer them the possibility to correct their behaviour autonomously. 

Make sure you don’t get into solution mode at this stage: here it is just about acknowledgement, just making a remark. You will have the chance to come back to it at a later stage.

Step #2 – Connect The Dots

This step is about putting connection points between the informal feedback loops. It is about connecting the dots.

You have to make the effort to bring isolated moments under one pattern. You have to understand what the underlying connection is,  make the effort of stressing the connection between the different moments.

This needs to be done with kindness, without any finger-pointing attitude and in a spirit of wanting to help the person grow.

At the next weekly catch up with the person be prepared to share with him/her what pattern you have observed and remarked. 
Keep a curious approach to the conversation and allow the person to tell you if they see a connection between the different moments. 

Some people do this very naturally; others will need a bit more practice before it feels natural… so be patient with yourself and always come from a place of honesty and kindness. 

Make It Stick

In most cases, Step 1 and 2 is all you need to get your team members to become aware of a situation; this can be something that stands in the way of his personal development, or that is preventing the project to advance smoothly, or it could be an attitude or a behaviour that is impacting the group dynamic; 

With Step1 you have recurrently pointed his/her attention to the single events.

With Step 2, you have showed him/her that you have noticed some common elements in individual occasions ; a series of independent events that, looked at them in conjunction, could reveal a pattern.

At this stage, the employee has to take responsibility and come up with an action plan on how to modify the bahaviour. The employee will try to justify their behaviour, explain themselves, in some cases they will promise that the won’t be a next time. 

However, our role as manager is to go beyond this step and help our people grow. We are giving the opportunity to improve to the other person. You are assuming a positive intent and you are being clear and big hearted. You delivered the truth kindly. And you want to help them in the journey to correct the bahaviour.

It is extremely important to follow up on it. Depending how deep embedded the behaviour was when you first remarked it, it might be quite hard to replace that behaviour with a new one (Check my post about 4 Steps to Change for guidance on how to correct a behaviour for good).

This is when you need the next step: the commitment

Step #3 – Get Commitment

This is a really important step. It is when your team member will make a personal commitment about the situation. It is like signing an agreement with you.

And an agreement can only be real if it is the result of …

  • An awareness of the problem,
  • A conscious acknowledgement of the impact the current behaviour has on oneself and others around
  • A personal commitment to do something about it.

Taking the time to elaborate together how the current behaviour under discussion is impacting both the individual, other people in the organisation and a specific project, proves to be very helpful. 

In particular, this exercise will reinforce the ‘why‘ change is needed and what impact it will have.

Nobody intends to do a bad job. 

The process of you being accountable and helping somebody see how an innocent behaviour is having a much bigger impact than they took the time to realise themselves, is what the world needs more of.

This is about practicing open & curious coaching, in the spirit of helping a colleague understand something more about themselves, to help them grow.

The goal of the conversation is focusing on the impact, on what the implications are. What has happened or what will happen if we continue with the same pattern. 

This has to be a two way conversation.

If you do these three Steps well, you are going to resolve a lot of situations. And both you and your team member will have grown also your relationship, your trust in each other.

So, here you have it: my strategy to start becoming a better manager, having honest and kind conversation with your team members to help you be a better manager and help your team members grow.

Leave me a comment: what is your tip to have hard conversations?


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