By John Borrowman, CPC
Borrowman Baker, LLC, BV Staffing + Consulting
Gallatin, TN

Managing people isn’t easy.  Given human nature, the tendency is to soften the truth with your direct reports about substandard performance, so as not to offend or upset them.  Maybe you avoid mentioning mistakes, missed dates, an incomplete project, unacceptable qualities of work, and so forth.

Then, if the problem gets bad enough, you may suddenly overreact with a contentious confrontation that results in little long-term behavior change.  The Managerial Moment of Truth” could be your handbook for breaking this cycle and coaching your employees to give their best, consistently.

Too often, managers think they have only two options for dealing with substandard performance: have a (potentially) contentious confrontation, or avoid addressing the situation.  The Managerial Moment of Truth” offers techniques so you can make corrections when they are small and insignificant, well before they become a chronic bad habit that demands a full confrontation.

The actual “moment of truth” really consists of two distinct events.  The first is your realization that there is a difference between what you expected and what was delivered.  The second is the decision you make about what to do with that information.  What you do with this moment of truth – how you act on it – makes all the difference.

Simplified, the technique has four steps:

  1. Acknowledge the truth
  2. Analyze how it got to be that way
  3. Create an action plan
  4. Establish a feedback system

If it were that simple, of course, you wouldn’t need the rest of the book.

One of the fundamental obstacles to applying this technique is the tendency for people to confuse the objective with the subjective.  They assume that acknowledging the facts automatically involves, or requires, an assignment of responsibility or blame.  By steering your employee to an objective view of the facts, the  person gains a new interest in becoming fluent in reality.  You create truth telling as an organizational norm.

After the question of “what’s so” comes the question: What happened?  Once again, the tendency is to focus on problem solving or listing excuses.  The objective is to track the person’s thought process by exploring what happened first, and then what happened?  What decisions did you make?  Why did you make those decisions?  What was the outcome of those decisions?  Properly executed, this step reveals – to you and your employee – the deficiencies in either design or execution that need to be addressed.  When your employee participates in this analysis, he is better positioned to suggest and implement corrections for next time.

The third step flows from the second in that a clear understanding of what happened enables an action plan.  Sometimes the plan is simple.  Sometimes it involves your entire team and has several parts.  While it’s critical to have the employee engaged in developing the action plan, it’s important that you review it to assure that it is workable, practical and built on sound assumptions.  Remember that this plan represents an intervention to a pattern.  If it looks likely that the intervention will work, you’re in good shape.  If not, you might need to rethink the plan.

The final step of establishing a feedback system is required to give you the opportunity to make adjustments in real time, as the person is putting the plan into practice.  It can become a permanent feature of great mentorship, and is too easily overlooked.

The Managerial Moment of Truth” builds on these four steps by incorporating case studies and sample conversations to illustrate the power of the process.  If you truly want to avoid confrontation, nip it in the bud by learning how to have critical moments of truth with the people you manage when the situation calls for it.

The Managerial Moment of Truth is authored by Bruce Bodaken, Chairman, President and CEO of Blue Shield of California, and Robert Fritz, a management consultant.  It is available through most on-line booksellers.

John Borrowman