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Ellen Warden, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
WorkPlace Synergy, LLC
If someone on your team is struggling, it’s your job as a practice leader to figure out how to get them on the right path; to help people learn from failure and move forward.
Accountability is key to a smoothly running practice. You won’t get accountability, though, if there are no consequences. When performance is below par your best choice may be providing a negative consequence Sometimes it helps to let people fail. The greatest and most meaningful learning experiences usually come from those times when things don’t go very well. The consequences of our actions are the ultimate teacher. This is something every practice leader should embrace.
Consequences are critical for success and they aren’t always negative. There’s the good, like a reward for a job well done. There’s the bad, like providing negative feedback for poor performance. A workplace with no negative consequences is a place where dysfunctional behavior becomes normal and produces a toxic workplace. It undermines morale, drives good performers away and erodes your leadership standing. When there are no negative consequences, it can’t help but affect your bottom line: employees are less productive; you lose clients, business growth and revenue. Ignore warning signs at your peril!
Do you get anxious just thinking about giving performance feedback? You’re not alone. Results of a recent Gallup poll of 2,000 managers found that 37 percent find it hard to give negative feedback to a subordinate, and 69 percent have difficulty communicating in general.
As challenging as it can feel, not providing clear tough feedback to direct reports exacerbates performance problems and impedes progress. At best, suffering a poor performer shows weakness. At worst, it is dangerous.
It’s easier to do it myself than take time with explanations. No question. That’s because whatever “it” is, you’ve probably been doing long enough that it’s second nature. That shouldn’t stop you from taking the time to explain, teach, and coach others to do their work so they meet and exceed performance expectations.
I don’t want to hurt their feelings. Most people feel attacked by criticism, even if well meant. Criticism has a negative feel; is judgmental and unpleasant. By contrast, feedback talks about the consequences while criticism focuses on the action, or worse, the person.
Consequences are not angry or reactive. They aren’t surprises, unreasonable or out of proportion. Their purpose is to teach a lesson to avoid the behavior in the future. Criticism judges and feedback informs. Both can be difficult to hear but feedback gives people the opportunity to grow. Letting someone fail is not the same as letting someone become a failure. Making development a priority shows you expect they aren’t perfect, and you want them to grow.
Neither do consequences need to be drastic. Sometimes, all it takes is people to see that you are paying attention to performance. A short-list of consequences might include:
- Direct conversations: A direct, private 1:1 conversation can sometimes be all you need to show that you are watching and that you care about performance
- Closer performance monitoring: No one likes to be micromanaged. If you are not getting results, you might need to check in with your employee more regularly to reinforce performance standards. You might see a shift in behavior.
- Re-allocating work: If a staffer’s performance is sub-par, allocate the more mundane, repeatable and easy tasks in your team. Make clear that reliable performance at that level will trigger more interesting and varied assignments.
- Formal performance management: If push-comes-to-shove, you might need more formal performance discussions or a Performance Improvement Plan. Eventually, you will get either improvement or a clear picture that termination is next.
Sometimes it feels easier to ignore or excuse behavior or poor performance by telling yourself that you’ll deal with it “next time”. Maybe you choose to believe it’s “just the way they are.” It’s not uncommon for practice leaders to think their work culture is different from larger organizations, letting them get caught up in thinking that employees are like family and are owed the higher tolerance that family members often get.
It’s your responsibility as a leader to see that all your employees are not only doing the job that you are paying them to do but performing those jobs in a way that is respectful, collaborative and professional. Letting them fail on occasion, providing timely feedback and having them learn from their failure, is a good way to get there.
Do you need help building a work culture of accountability with clear consequences? Ellen Warden works with BV/LS practices around the country to help them align their HR solutions with long-term objectives. You can reach Ellen at WorkPlace Synergy.