Having challenging and difficult conversations is one of the hardest parts of being a manager. Whether you’re discussing underperformance, staff or client complaints, it’s essential to keep things amicable and constructive. Workplace conflict affects morale and productivity and ultimately costs your business. A study recently revealed that employees spend an average of 2.8 hours a week dealing with conflict, at a cost of roughly £276 billion across the workforce. Not only that, but conflict also affects staff retention. A staggering 55% of workers have, at some stage, left their employment due to bad management practices.
However, when handled well, these conversations can be hugely beneficial for both the employee and employer. In fact, 94% of employees actively want to tackle the difficult topics and view corrective feedback as a fundamental part of career progression and personal development.
So, the £276 billion dollar question is how can your company improve difficult employee conversations? In this article, we’ll break down how continuous performance management is the key.
What Is Continuous Performance Management?
Continuous performance management is a process that takes place on an ongoing basis throughout the year. Created as a tonic to outdated and ineffective traditional annual appraisals, continuous performance management includes near-term objective setting, regular one-on-ones or check-ins and the provision of ongoing feedback. But what exactly are its benefits?
- It keeps the conversation balanced
Nobody likes to feel like they’re being constantly criticised — it’s disheartening, unmotivating and, often, unfair. When difficult conversations are put off until an annual review this can lose the momentum and in turn have more of a negative impact.
Regular performance reviews stagger check-ins throughout the year at monthly or quarterly intervals. Over this time, you’re able to build a consistent understanding of your employee’s performance, including their strengths and their weaknesses. An ongoing dialogue reflects the full spectrum of your employee’s performance and allows you to balance negative, but constructive, feedback with positive praise. The result is that a difficult conversation becomes part of a broader discussion designed to be beneficial to both parties.
- It builds mutual respect and trust
When you have a difficult conversation with an employee without a strong foundation of respect and trust, you’re destined to fail. These two small words have the power to completely alter the dynamic of the conversion and can lead to a more desirable result. At the root of all positive communication is a mutual respect for the other person and an appreciation of their perspective. Unfortunately, there’s no shortcut as respect and trust must be earned over time. If you only manage to sit down with your employees once in a blue moon, you probably haven’t spent enough time with them to earn that vital trust.
Regular check-ins ensure a better flow of conversation between employee and management. Given space and time to speak to their manager, employees feel like their voices matter. The time can be used to ask questions, provide answers and offer opinions, all of which encourages an open, honest and mutually beneficial dialogue. This means, that when it comes to the tough stuff, you can take comfort in the fact that you’ve already built a strong foundation for communication.
- It encourages specificity and focus
The worst way to manage a difficult conversation is to avoid the issue. Without a clear objective to the conversation and the information to support your claims, your criticism cannot be constructive. It is, therefore, essential that you stick to the facts. Your employee should completely understand what the conversation is about and why you’re having it. Avoid confusion and unnecessary upset, by being direct, specific and having an agenda in place.
Using continuous performance management software to give real-time feedback as events occur ensures that you have all the factual information that you need to support a meaningful discussion. This feedback allows for increased specificity, allowing you to structure the conversation professionally by saying “this is the issue, but this is how you can improve”.
- It creates a rapport and understanding
We’ve all heard of the dreaded ‘feedback sandwich’ — a staple of bad management. In an attempt not to demoralise your employee, you present your criticism sandwiched between two compliments. This may seem like the kinder approach, but your employees can see through it. Your employees deserve honesty and this approach masks what could be constructive criticism with patronising hand-holding. This tends to crop up when employers don’t understand their employees. Of course, every employee will respond to criticism in different ways: some value the tough love approach, while others prefer a softer touch.
Taking the time to understand your employees — how they think, work, and talk — will help you calibrate the conversation in the best way. Continuous performance management helps you to understand your employees, allows you to look at the situation from their perspective and builds a rapport by giving them an opportunity to voice any concerns and discuss their ongoing development and career goals. Because of this mutual understanding, your feedback is modulated effectively to create a conversation that your employee benefits from.
- It keeps emotions at bay
A difficult conversation with an employee might include topics such as productivity, quality of work and behaviours. These conversations are, undeniably, hard to have. No matter how tactful your approach, these discussions will invariably prompt emotional responses. Learning how to manage your own emotions is critical to the success of such conversations. Failure to do so can have drastic consequences.
Continuous performance management helps to keep emotions out of the picture by providing a structure and framework with which to engage your employees.
Continuous performance management is the future of management. In addition to building rapport, trust and respect, and providing opportunities for regular check-ins, it also allows you to recognise potential issues and devise solutions before they develop further, and deal with them more effectively if they already have. Implementing this now will let you start having having the right conversations in the right way.