Interview Bias Impacting Hiring Decisions

Even the most seasoned of interviewers may fall victim to some common interviewing bias. Managers need proper training to conduct interviews that are non-discriminatory in nature and to avoid exposure to discrimination claims. In addition, awareness of these biases can make interviewers more effective in selecting the right candidate. Some forms of bias are described below.

  • Stereotyping. Stereotyping involves making generalized opinions about how people from a protected class such as sex, religion, age, race, etc. appear, think, act, feel or respond. For example, assuming a male would prefer being employed in a construction job over a teaching job.
  • Inconsistency. Some managers utilize different sets of questions to interview for the same job position amongst different individuals. For example, asking Hispanic candidates about their bilingual skills versus Caucasian applicants is not a recommended practice.
  • First Impression. First impressions can leave a lasting impression. Sometimes during the interview process, the interviewer takes the first thing he or she notices about the candidate and forms his/her opinion regarding the applicant on the first impression. This bias may benefit or harm the candidate’s chances of selection.
  • Halo/Horn Effect. If the interviewer finds one good trait, he or she will favor the candidate (halo). When the interviewer finds one negative trait, he or she will see that to be a disqualifier for the position (horn).
  • Contrast Effect. Contrast bias is present when candidates are compared against each other rather than evaluated based on the job requirements. The tendency is to base a candidate’s individual ranking on one’s position relative to others in the group. If the interview pool consists of a number of outstanding candidates, an average candidate will not be selected. But in a substandard pool, the average candidate may appear to be highly qualified.
  • “Similar to Me”. The “similar to me” effect occurs when the interviewer identifies with the candidate on a personal level, rather than evaluates the candidate on job-related criteria. For Example: The candidate attended the same university as the interviewer.
  • Cultural Noise. This occurs when the candidate’s responses are not factually based, but are socially acceptable answers. Basically, the applicant tells the interviewer what they think the interviewer would like to hear or will help secure the job.

Interview bias may occur intentionally or unintentionally. It is important to be aware of how biases may affect your decision-making when interviewing candidates. Keep biases at bay to ensure equality and effectiveness in the interview process.

The Rewards of Trust and How to Get Them

Why do people stop trusting in one another? And what happens to a team when trust disappears? To answer these questions, let’s start with a fable.

About a year ago, Abigail began her first day on a new job. She was a software engineer, new to the workforce, and eager to make a good impression on her colleagues. At the end of the day, she noticed a fine, jagged line on the floor of the office, stretching the length of the building. She examined it, puzzled. She was pretty sure she hadn’t noticed it earlier and almost as sure that it hadn’t been there when she’d arrived. For a moment she considered asking someone about it, but she didn’t feel comfortable inquiring about structural integrity on her first day.

Truth be told, she wasn’t the only employee who noticed the jagged line, and it had just appeared that day. But no one else had brought it up.

The next morning, the line had grown to an unmistakable crack. Javier, another software engineer, saw it straight away and thought about mentioning it to his supervisor, but the last time Javier spoke up about a problem, his supervisor had scolded him for not also presenting a solution. He had no solution, so he said nothing.

Dipendu thought he had an easy fix for the ugly crack, but he too was hesitant to speak up. The last time one of his designs hadn’t worked out as planned, the executive team was livid, and his manager threatened to demote him if his work ever failed again. Lupita, a senior designer, also had a solid idea for repairing the crack, but she’d seen too many of her good ideas stolen by others in the company, who received the credit for her ingenuity. Both Dipendu and Lupita kept quiet.

As the days passed, the crack expanded several inches. Everyone stepped over it as nonchalantly as they could so as not to acknowledge its existence. After a few weeks, the rift was several feet wide, and HR quietly updated job descriptions to say that the physical requirements of every job might entail some jumping.

Finally, after office supplies, a laptop, and Fred got lost in the rift, management decided to acknowledge the issue. But its message was inconsistent. In some instances, management seemed to take the gap seriously and promised it prompt attention. At other times, management seemed less committed. Only after an OSHA inspector showed up on an anonymous tip and summarily disappeared into the rift did company leadership clarify their position. Whatever the cause of the still-growing crack, employees were at fault for not speaking up sooner, and they’d just have to live with the consequences.

The consequences, however, were not sustainable. Valuable team members and intellectual property got lost in the abyss, electrical wires and phone lines got disconnected, and team meetings involved a lot of shouting over the gap. Soon everyone only communicated if they absolutely needed to, and oftentimes not even then.

What happened to this company may sound farfetched, but the rift is real. While you probably won’t find gaping holes in workplace floors, you will find trust destroyed by broken promises, lies, spin, retaliation, and inconsistency. And when trust is lost, relationships and teams break apart. In the workplace, people keep their distance from others, withhold information, refrain from identifying problems, and erect barriers to protect themselves. In short, they stop working together.
 

Benefits of Trust

The whole point of forming a team is to facilitate cooperation. Trust is the foundation of that cooperation. With trust, teams increase their productivity, improve their ability to communicate and collaborate effectively, act more creatively, delegate work more easily, and achieve greater financial success. Trust enables teams to accomplish what they’re designed to accomplish. Trust creates a sure footing for success. But without trust, cooperation cracks, shatters, and dies. People can’t act as a team. 
 

Building Trust

Trusting your employees and gaining their trust isn’t easy. As Wendy Dailey says, it takes time and effort. It’s work.

But trust is achievable. And worth it. We human beings are social animals, after all. It’s normal for us to trust one another. All of our social institutions require it. That’s one reason violations of trust feel so wrong and hurt so much. They cause rifts in friendships, romantic partnerships, families, neighborhoods, churches, teams, and other organizations. And yet those rifts are not the norm. They’re not what we typically expect. In the workplace, we expect to be able to trust our teammates, at least as far as work is concerned. So how do we get there? Let’s examine a few practical ways to build trust at work. 

Learn What Trustworthiness Means to Your Employees
Laurie Ruettimann, author of Betting on You and host of the Punk Rock HR podcast, advises organizations “to learn more about how their employees define, value and evaluate trustworthiness — and act on it.” What establishes and strengthens trust with one employee may be different than what builds trust with another. For one thing, every employee has their own reasons for being an employee of their organization and expectations for what that relationship entails. For another, everyone has their own experience with building and losing trust. All else being equal, gaining the trust of someone who’s had their trust in others betrayed will be more difficult than gaining the trust of someone who’s not experienced such devastating betrayals. It’s vital to understand these differences. 

Build Relationships on Authenticity, Logic, and Empathy
Executive coach Sarah Noll Wilson offers similar guidance. There is “a complexity to trust because what everyone values and what they need is going to be different based on every situation,” she writes. Her team recommends a framework they call the ‘Trust Triangle.’ We build high-trust relationships at work by being authentic about our values and impact, logical in how we’ve come to our conclusions, and empathetic in all our interactions. 

Give Employees Your Time and Attention
Consider this simple advice from HR author and speaker Steve Browne: show “a little respect.” Respect brings people together. It empowers people to trust. We show people respect in the workplace by “acknowledging that their efforts make an impact and meaningful difference to the success of the company.” For Browne, we engage people with respect by giving them two things: “our time and attention.” 

Acknowledge People’s Emotions
Researchers Alisa Yu, Julian Zlatev, and Justin Berg arrived at much the same place. Writing in Harvard Business Review, they explain that the best way to build trust at work is to acknowledge other people’s emotions. Acknowledging another’s emotions communicates that you “care enough to invest in that relationship.” Interestingly, the authors found that “acknowledging negative emotions boosts trust more than acknowledging positive emotions.” Why? Because most people “see acknowledging negative emotions as being more costly in terms of time, attention, and effort.” Acknowledging emotions can backfire, however, if “your coworkers believe your actions are motivated by selfish reasons.” 

Act with Transparency, Clarity, and Consistency
We trust others when we believe that they are worthy of that trust — when we believe that they are honest, good, reliable, faithful, compassionate, and fair. How do we inspire others to believe that we are trustworthy? By keeping our promises. By being transparent about our decisions, clear about our expectations, and consistent in our practices.

Believe in Your People
Trust can’t go just one way. Rifts in the workplace will form if trust isn’t reciprocal. That means that we also have to show employees that we trust them. This can be challenging because we’re often inclined, and not unreasonably, to perceive employees as costs, risks, and liabilities. And yes, they certainly can be, but they’re also any company’s greatest asset. If we treat employees only as a danger, we tell them loud and clear that we don’t trust them.

The alternative? Find strength in vulnerability. Acknowledge the rights of your employees and your responsibilities to them (the employee handbook is a convenient place to do this, but your overall attitude matters too). Invest in their growth and success. Celebrate their wins. Give them reasonable opportunities to mend mistakes and make up for failures. In sum, treat employees like you trust them to do good work. Will some betray that trust? Yes. But that’s on them. Believe in them, and you’ll inspire trust. Assume betrayal, and you’ll get something else.  

Trust enables people to work together. Pour everything you can into that foundation. You’ll build stronger and more productive relationships with your employees, notice and mend cracks more quickly, enhance the capabilities of your team, and achieve greater success. 

Avoiding Burnout When You Work In HR

If you work in HR, you know that employee burnout remains pervasive. You also know that the task of supporting overly stressed employees often falls on your shoulders. But you’re exhausted too. Burnout isn’t just a problem you have to help others solve; you also have to solve it for yourself. Here are seven ways to do that.

Set Boundaries
First and foremost, set boundaries. You cannot possibly be all things to all your people, available at all times no matter the cost. That’s not your job. More to the point, your job is not the supreme ruler of your time. Having a job means that you’ve committed to using some of your time to complete a certain amount of work, but you should still think of that time as yours. After all, it’s your life, your energy, your health. Don’t feel bad about giving time to your needs just because you’re working. The mindset that you can never prioritize your needs while on “company time” is an unhealthy one.

Place boundaries around both the time during which you work and what you spend your time doing while working. If you say that you’re done with work at 6 p.m., don’t do any work after 6 p.m. Emails and Slack messages can wait until the next workday. If people at work need to be able to reach you in an emergency, establish a specific way for that to happen (e.g., a call or text to your cell) and make sure the people who may contact you know what qualifies as an emergency and what doesn’t.

You can set boundaries during the workday by delegating tasks that don’t need to be done by you. HR is a big job for one person or even one department. Not every personnel issue even should be handled by you. Managers and department heads should be able to handle a lot of those issues themselves, and only come to you for help if it’s actually needed. If they are bringing you so many small problems that you don’t have time to resolve the big ones, you may need to set different expectations or train managers to resolve certain issues themselves. If you’re having to manage employees for them, they’re not doing their jobs (and may need to be developed or replaced).

Know What You Can and Cannot Control
In HR, we often feel responsible for everything related to employees. If there’s an issue, it’s on us to address it. A problem? We own the solution. Something not improving? We’re at fault. This belief that we are responsible for all the things causes stress to mount and leads to burnout. It also isn’t true.

We can’t be responsible for what we can’t control, and so much that happens in the workplace is simply out of our control. It’s vital—both for our work and our mental health—for us to know what is and isn’t in our power to change. If employees are quitting as a result of ineffective workplace policies, and you have purview over those policies, you can probably do something about this attrition. But if they’re quitting because there are better opportunities for them that your organization can’t match, there may be nothing you can do. Spending time trying to solve unsolvable problems isn’t going to have a good return. Or, as the old saying goes, if there is no solution, there is no problem.

Implement Clear and Simple Policies and Practices
The more ambiguous or complex your workplace policies and practices are, the more questions people will have about what they mean or require. If you find that your people often come to you asking what they’re supposed to do in a given situation, look at what you can do to answer their questions proactively. Do you have an employee handbook? Standardized practices for managers? Granted, some employees aren’t going to read any policy documents you give them, but in general you can save yourself (and others) a lot of time by defining policies and practices so that they are clear, accessible, and easy to follow. Accordingly, you should ensure that leaders are aware of where the handbooks, policies, and guidelines reside so that employees may self-serve whenever possible.

Train Your Colleagues
Being the only one who can do a certain essential task may be good for your job security, but it isn’t good for your health. If no one else can do what you do, you can’t truly get away or be guaranteed to focus on one task to the exclusion of all others. People can only cover for you if they have the knowledge and skills to complete the tasks you need covered.

Realistically, you can’t plan for every contingency, but teaching colleagues the skills and knowledge they’d most likely need when covering for you increases the likelihood that they’ll be able to handle whatever arises while you’re away or focused on an urgent project.

Take Time Off
Speaking of getting away, take time off. You need a break from work as much as anyone—maybe more so—and you don’t need to justify it. You don’t have to feel sick or especially overwhelmed or have something special planned. Breaks from work are good for you, period. If you feel the need to justify a break from work, take time off to set a good example to everyone else that they should be taking time off too.

When employees see leaders in their organization taking ample time away from work, they feel more confident taking time off themselves. That helps save those employees from burnout, which in turn saves their leaders’ time.

Connect with Other HR Professionals
Working in HR can be a lonely profession, especially if you’re a department of one. When you’re in HR, friendships at work range from tricky to ill-advised. You may not have anyone at work you can really open up to or who appreciates the challenges of your job. Fortunately, there’s an active community of HR professionals online who are more than happy to share ideas, answer questions, or just listen. You can find them on LinkedIn, Twitter, and elsewhere by searching #hrcommunity or #hr. They’re a friendly and chatty bunch, eager to converse about the latest trends, specific pain points, and the generally daunting challenges of working in HR.

Consider following a few HR practitioners, participating in a conversation, or just watching from the sidelines until you feel more comfortable. It’s not quite the same as having a close friend at work, but what it lacks in close proximity, it makes up for in shared experience.

Treat Yourself
“I’m going to let you in on a little secret,” Special Agent Dale Cooper says to Sherriff Harry S. Truman in the television series Twin Peaks. “Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it. Don’t wait for it. Just let it happen.”

The present doesn’t have to be extravagant. Cooper’s examples include a catnap in one’s office chair and taking a few minutes to enjoy a nice hot cup of coffee. Yours might be a 20-minute walk to get some fresh air and Vitamin D. The point is to be not just reasonable, but generous with yourself every day. The work we do in HR is stressful, emotionally taxing, and tiring. We spend our days supporting others in difficult situations. Our job is giving time, comfort, and care to others. It’s important to give those things to ourselves too.

How Leadership’s Understanding of “Psychological Safety” is More Important than Ever

Whether you’ve been leading a remote workforce for decades, recently ventured into this space, are dabbling with hybrid models or fully returning your staff to in-house status, one thing is certain: The concept of “workplace” has changed forever. The pandemic effectively recast it. And the hard, sacred work of nurturing company culture has gotten even more dynamic in the process.

psychological safety

Plus, we all have a front row seat to “The Great Resignation” as the country and the job market has opened back up and the perception of boundless options prevails (all while making this workplace and cultural undertaking even more fraught for leadership). The talented and the hopeful are not wrong – There is an opportunity boom as we emerge from this period, but what remains is more important than ever: the need to get a few things right, and these all play into the primal need of feeling psychologically safe. Offer or no offer, no one’s coming back to your office, live, virtual or otherwise, if they don’t feel safe and included within the culture.

Therefore, inclusion and belonging have taken on a heightened level of importance within the workplace. Once buzzwords in the workplace, and often used only for PR purposes, these traits are now business imperatives. Talent is more intentional now than ever about interviewing the company they will lend their skills to, rather than simply being interviewed by a potential employer. Value and career alignment, community, allyship and trust are dominating interview conversations more and more.

This war on talent is opening the eyes of global companies and leaders to rethink their strategy for attracting and retaining the world’s top talent. When employees leave an organization to take on other opportunities or resign without another offer in hand, there may be a true disconnect in value, career alignment or trust. Here are some immediate questions to consider:

  • Did the employee speak up about concerns prior to resigning? If no, why not? If yes, were there follow-up conversations and realignment on actions?
  • Did the manager have regular conversations with the employee on career goals and timing?
  • Did the organization make inclusion and belonging visible priorities and central business strategy?
  • How safe do your employees feel to share their frustrations or misalignments? On a scale of 1 to 10 (1= not safe at all, 10=extremely safe).
  • How inclusive is your leadership?

As I share often with other Diversity & Inclusion executive leaders, the role of psychological safety and trust continues to be the solution for regrettable attrition. Dr. Timothy Clark, author of The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety, defines psychological safety as “an environment of rewarded vulnerability”. If we take this definition and use it to assess our current culture in many organizations we see the missing ingredient. It is imperative that executive leaders, managers, and supervisors all rethink what workplace inclusion and trust look like. It means we sometimes have the uncomfortable conversations with staff, and ask questions like,“What are you hoping to get from your time in this role?” or “How do you see this opportunity playing into your overall career goals?” These basic questions create opportunities for alignment and realignment throughout their time in the organization.

We hear the statement all the time that people don’t quit companies, they quit bosses. And often when talent quits a boss, it is because somewhere along the journey, that talent lost trust in the boss’s ability to place the employee’s interest in mind.

“Do you have me and my career and my ability to excel in this role, in mind, when you’re leading? If you don’t, then I’ll go somewhere where I am celebrated and recognized for my value add.”

So, take a moment. Step back. Reflect and ask yourself those questions.

Psychological safety is not simply something to “achieve” or a box to check. It’s something to embody. And it takes continuous work and improvement.

It’s also not something that any one person can achieve alone for an organization. It’s on each of us – from CEOs and tenured leaders to new hires experiencing their first day – to consistently work towards… Together.

With that, I encourage you to consider #rethinking psychological safety in corporate culture.

Preparing the Workplace for Another Challenging Year

As we enter the new year, the risks of COVID-19 may recede, but the trauma, pain, and disruptions of these past two years will still be with us, affecting our lives and our work. We’ve all struggled, sometimes in ways we can’t pinpoint. 

In her book Bearing the Unbearable, Joanne Cacciatore describes grief as “a process of expansion and contraction.” Cacciatore explains that in a moment of contraction, we may feel unsteady and unsafe, and we “feel the call to self-protect.” In a moment of expansion, we “become more willing to venture out and explore” and “take risks.” This process isn’t exclusive to grief, of course. Whatever the cause, many of us right now are experiencing one or the other, or both. 

A recent guest on the HR Social Hour Half Hour Podcast, Julie Turney, founder and CEO of HR@Heart Consulting, observed that people today recognize that they deserve better, and they are demanding better. They are less willing to settle, less comfortable with the way things are. People are fleeing jobs that are physically or psychologically unsafe. Others are chasing their dreams with a newfound passion. 

For the foreseeable future, people will seek environments that are both flexible and strong enough to support a process of contraction and expansion. They will desire work that gives them a safe place to be and a fulfilling place to go. They will crave a future they can own and a course they can chart, and their jobs will either help or hinder them. Jobs that help them will be in high demand.

Fortunately, such sought-after work environments can be achieved with some basic practices. Let’s look at some.

Talk About the Future
Ask your managers to talk regularly with their direct reports about how they’re feeling today and what they’d like to be doing in the future. Due to the circumstances, you can expect the answers they hear to vary and to change. On a given day, an employee may feel optimistic and ambitious, eager to take on a new project or a new role. But a week later, that same employee may feel hesitant or anxious about taking on any new responsibilities.

Don’t assume an employee expressing conflicting feelings isn’t up for the task at hand. In normal times, it’s natural to second guess big decisions, and these are not normal times. Some employees may need a little extra encouragement. Others may truly be happier continuing to do what they’ve been doing.

Through these conversations, managers can help their people make informed decisions about their future that make sense for them and for the company.

Don’t Be Afraid to Set Deadlines
Giving employees time to decide what future makes the most sense for them can go a long way to building trust and gratitude. There will come a time, however, when a decision needs to be made. A manager who has been talking with a member of their team about a new career opportunity in another part of the company, for example, will need a definitive answer eventually, probably sooner rather than later.

When a manager has a conversation with a team member about opportunities for growth that require significant change, they should, as soon as possible, make it clear to the employee when a final decision needs to be made. That way the employee has a set timeframe to work through their feelings, and a deadline isn’t unexpectedly thrust upon them.

Provide Grief Support
A lot of people are grieving, and grief takes work. People grieving need the time, space, and freedom to do that work. The option to take bereavement leave after a loss can be invaluable to them, but so too is the liberty to take days off down the road when they’re needed. The grieving process isn’t linear, and the unbearable pain of grief can resurface unexpectedly, months and years later. The life of grief is long. Whatever you can do to enable employees to safely take the time they need to process a loss and heal, do it. 

Take Care of Yourself and Your HR Leaders
Lars Schmidt, the founder of Amplify, points out that, while the “market for HR roles has never been hotter,” the work of HR has taken a “sustained toll” on those doing that work. They’re “carrying the emotional burdens of their employees (and their own).” Burnout is common.

Be sure to give yourself and anyone else caring for your people time to rest, recharge, grieve, or whatever else each of you needs to do to stay healthy. “Resilience is not an infinite resource,” executive coach Sarah Noll Wilson reminds us. Take time off. You need it, too.  

Don’t Take Departures Personally or Draw the Wrong Conclusions
When an employee leaves an organization, it’s always a good idea to understand why and consider what changes you could have made to keep them. What you learn may not persuade that employee to reconsider their departure, but it may assist you in keeping others. That said, sometimes employees quit and there’s nothing you could have done to convince them to stay. The best possible workplace in the world will still see people go elsewhere simply because those people want a change or because of circumstances beyond their control.

When your employees tell you they’re leaving, do your due diligence to find out why, but don’t overthink their departures or take them personally. If everything was good and they still left, that just means everything was good and they still left. It doesn’t mean that you didn’t do enough or should have done something differently. Believe in the work you’re doing. Be kind to yourself. As Lars Schmidt says in his book Redefining HR, “we’re on the front lines of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows of all our employees.”    

Inspire Hope
Whether we feel the strong urge to self-protect or we’re jumping out of our seat to pursue a risky venture, we could all use a little hope. The philosopher David Utsler writes, “Hope offers no guarantees. Hope does not promise that life or the world will get better. Hope only insists on the possibility.”

You can inspire hope by expanding the scope of what is possible for your employees. Talk with them about their dreams and ambitions so they can imagine what possibilities lie before them. Talk about where your company is going and what you’ll need from your employees. Help them envision a place where they can explore, take risks, and be supported.

Then work together to get there. 

8 Tips for Handling Tough Employee Conversations

We all get cold feet when it comes to addressing difficult issues with colleagues in the workplace. It’s stressful, and you just can’t help but think of all of the ways that a well-meaning conversation could go sideways. You worry about the longer-lasting effects of a damaged work relationship but know that you must correct problematic work performance or behaviors before they get out of control.

Uncomfortable conversations about personal behaviors and poor performance are tough, and putting them off just allows the problems to worsen. Use your knowledge of the situation and put together the right combination of management skills to tackle the talk now.

Imagine these all-too-familiar employee situations that you know you need to address but don’t think you have the wisdom (or can’t muster up the courage) to handle:

  • The “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished” situation. For the past several months, one of your team members has been underperforming, and it has dragged down your business unit’s productivity. The underperforming employee has shared that she has a number of family and financial issues and is trying her hardest to stay focused on work because she needs this job and loves the company. She lives your company values and is well-liked by her co-workers. Everyone feels bad for her situation and has been picking up the slack, but they are growing resentful of the extra work with no end in sight. You’ve been trying to be kind by avoiding the issues as her performance has slid from bad to worse. It is now impacting your company’s overall performance and degrading the employee relations climate.
  • The “Bad Behavior, Great Performer” situation. One of your employees consistently exceeds his production goals at the expense of the company culture. He is highly critical of others, issues demands from other work teams without regard for their other priorities, and employees grudgingly drop everything to deliver on impossible deadlines because they believe that they cannot push back. It’s all about him and his performance. He is regularly recognized by the company leadership for being the top producer, and employee complaints to management about his behavior have not been addressed. While production goals are good, your company culture is sinking and you’re starting to see increased absenteeism and turnover among your staff.

Don’t Overlook the Signals

In addition to employee resentment and lost productivity, there’s a bottom-line impact for not tackling these tough talks at the right time and in the right manner. The key is to pay attention to the signals and not feed the problem with neglect.

In the first scenario, trying to be a kind and sensitive boss worked in the beginning but is now backfiring. At first the team worked together to help their struggling colleague, but without a plan to fix the problem in the longer term, it created three serious issues for you to fix: employee morale, lack of confidence in your leadership for missing the signals of “team fatigue,” and not having a plan to keep the team on track — all resulting in lost productivity.

The best thing you can do in situations like these is to work with the struggling employee to develop a plan that puts her back on track or helps her consider alternatives if necessary. This type of conversation requires sensitivity along with some firmness because you need to steer the conversation from the personal issues back to actionable work deliverables.

In my experience dealing with circumstances like the second scenario, typically management allows the top performer’s behavior to go unchecked for fear that if the employee is corrected his performance will suffer or he will quit the company. While there may be an element of truth to those concerns if the individual is unwilling to accept constructive feedback, the bigger fear should be for the company’s culture, employee erosion of trust and confidence in the leadership team, and the motivation, performance, and retention of the other company employees if the behavior is not changed.

Often the top performer continues to use the same work patterns that have been successful and isn’t even aware of the impact on others. Addressing the issues sensitively so that he can make personal changes has the potential to create even higher levels of team unity and performance.

What Signals are You Looking For?

For starters, watch your team’s interactions with each other, be sure that each team member understands their key performance objectives, and take the time to “check in” regularly and solicit feedback about the job, work team, and overall company with each employee.

Having direct conversations on a regular basis helps you nip problems in the bud and shows your employees that you care about their concerns. You also learn each other’s communication patterns so that when it comes time to have that awkward or difficult conversation, you both are less uncomfortable.

Groups where team members work remotely increase the chances that signals can be missed. When telecommuting is coupled with the use of instant messaging and other forms of communications in place of direct face-to-face or voice communications, the sender’s well-intentioned messages may get lost in translation. Be sure to follow up any electronic communications with a direct phone call or meeting.

Eight Tips for Tackling These Conversations

Strategies to manage conflicts with subordinates are not fully taught in business classes. More common are courses addressing project conflicts, where the focus is on fixing the “what” of the problem, such as resetting priorities, changing business plans, or repairing broken systems or processes. There are fewer tools focusing on how teams communicate and repairing broken business relationships. Preparation and planning are critical to get what you need from these hard conversations while keeping your relationship with the employee intact.

  1. Focus your own viewpoint first. If you start out thinking the conversation will be really hard, you’re going to be more anxious. Chances are the conversation will be harder. Instead, position this discussion as a means to enhance your relationship while helping your employee develop better skills, understand company priorities better, or work more positively on the team. Think about how you can deliver the difficult talking points with honesty, courage and fairness.
  2. Recognize the emotions you will be feeling. Are you disappointed in this employee? Angry about the problems they’ve caused? Scared that your conversation will damage your work relationship? Put your negative feelings aside and consider how you will frame the problem you need to discuss and how your employee may feel. Try to come at the discussion with consideration and compassion for their feelings and frame the conversation with a desire for the employee’s success. “John, we need to have a hard conversation today, and I’m feeling anxious because I want you to win. Please know that I am invested in your success and will work with you to make that happen.”
  3. Be intentional in planning the conversation, but don’t script it out so that your delivery sounds mechanical. Some consultants suggest drafting a script and considering alternatives based on the employee’s reactions. In my experience, these conversations never go completely according to plan, and scripted conversations feel artificial. Instead, write down key points and plan as if you are just having a simple conversation with a colleague. Be prepared to provide specifics and pace your conversation so that you take time to gauge your employee’s reactions to your comments. Your employee may react defensively if you provide vague statements. Instead of saying, “Sue, people in the company are telling me that you are difficult to work with and have a bad attitude,” frame the issue with examples, such as, “Sue, I am concerned because I’ve noticed in the last four team meetings you arrived late and weren’t prepared with project updates. As a result, both Joe and Sam missed their deliverables, and you didn’t let any of us know in advance that the timeline was slipping.”
  4. Recognize that you own part of the problem, too. Your goal is to have a conversation between adults where each owns some responsibility for the issue and solving the problem. This takes the conversation from finding fault to finding solutions. “Rob, I realize now that you have too many priorities and I didn’t provide you with the resources to deliver on the project. I also realize that I avoided addressing the problem at the beginning of the project and let it go too long without discussing it with you.”
  5. Outline what you want changed. Don’t just discuss the problem; describe the end result you envision. Discuss realistic and achievable outcomes and be willing to offer resources and assistance as appropriate.
  6. Ask the employee for his or her viewpoints. The last thing you want is a one-sided conversation. Slow the pace of the conversation, observe the employee’s reactions to your comments, and ask for feedback and suggestions for solving the problem. You may learn new information about what may have caused the problem, and the employee could offer even better solutions than you thought possible. Throughout the conversation, look for areas of consensus and acknowledge the employee’s feelings and concerns. That shows respect.
  7. End the conversation on a positive note with an action plan. Thank the employee for working with you through the difficult discussion. Acknowledge that it was a tough conversation and express appreciation for the employee’s professionalism as you both work towards a better outcome. Develop a going-forward action plan to solve the problem. “Tom, this was a hard talk, and I know it wasn’t easy for you. You provided some good ideas for fixing the issue, and I appreciate your professionalism. You can do this, and I am here to help you win.”
  8. Close the loop and follow up. Give the employee a little time to reflect on the discussion, but no more than a day or two. Follow up and ask the employee if they would like to have another discussion to cover any additional information or clarification. Put the agreed-upon action plan in writing, schedule regular status meetings, and recognize progress and improved performance. Taking these steps demonstrates your respect for the employee and desire for them to succeed.

Keep the Conversation Going

Great managers keep the conversation going to ensure team members are aligned and supporting each other to create a healthy corporate culture and successful company. When problems arise, they have the tough conversations to get things back on track. Handling these discussions well takes courage as well as empathetic listening and communications skills. Pay attention to the signals, develop your communications plan, and you’ll be more confident in tackling your next tough employee communications challenge.

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AZ HR Hub

 

4435 E. Chandler Blvd., Suite 200, Phoenix, AZ 85048

877-294-7482

linda@azhrhub.com

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