Darryl Stewart
By Darryl Stewart
A woman covering her ears

Why you need to tell them what they don’t want to hear

According to Gallup, a powerful indicator of engagement at work is strong agreement with the statement: “Someone at work seems to care about me as a person”. Another is strong agreement with: “Someone has talked to me about my progress in the last six months”.

For some of my career as a leader, I would beat around the bush when I saw someone’s performance fall short. Many times, I would just let it go. When I did get up the courage to address the issue, I would try to sugar coat it out of fear of dis-engaging them. I didn’t give full details about what I saw as the problem and I didn’t express what my expectations were for the future. Not surprisingly, improvement was rare.

Today, when someone under-performs, I do what I have learned to do from great leaders. As soon as possible, I have a private conversation with the employee. I spell out exactly what I see as a problem and I ask the person to explain the situation. I then take all the time necessary to make sure we both understand what the future expectation is. I am direct and straightforward about what my concerns are. The old me would be mortified at how direct I can be! The reaction from staff? Almost always positive! True to Gallup’s research, when you take the time to show you care about someone’s success by talking with them about their performance, they genuinely appreciate it. On the rare occasion when the reaction is negative, it is usually because I was wrong in my assessment of a situation. After a quick and sincere apology from me we can both carry on with the air cleared and my perception corrected – also a win.

When you see under-performance in one of your staff, be direct, listen well to their side, be fair, and be clear about your expectations. If this is not yet your habit, I highly encourage you to go there. It will improve engagement with your team and increase your leadership cred substantially.