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Can We Talk…? How to Have a Difficult Conversation

Tuesday, October 11th, 2016

Every manager at one time or another has been faced with this awkward situation. The need arises for them to have a difficult performance conversation with one of their direct reports. In most cases, it has become clearly evident that the employee’s performance has dropped below the acceptable standard, and the issue must be addressed.thx7vghl8u

Yet, it is generally at this point that they begin to question how to best approach the matter. Because of a strong desire to be liked (a.k.a. high need for affiliation), many managers bury their heads in the sand and hope that the matter will fade away. The reality is that this is seldom the case.

Still other managers just feel too uncomfortable to give constructive feedback. To assist them, here are several practical tips that you can share with your management team:

Tip # 1: Don’t procrastinate

When you see performance issues, address them as quickly as possible. Putting them on the back burner will only delay the inevitable. If you allow the matter to pass, you may inadvertently send a signal that the performance is acceptable.

Tip # 2: Don’t dance around the subject

When they are about to have a difficult conversation, managers tend to try to ‘break the ice’ with some small talk. Fight that urge. The best approach is to avoid the small talk and get to the point. A good starting point is to immediately state… ‘This is going to be a difficult conversation.’

Tip # 3: Provide examples

Being too general when addressing a performance issue doesn’t give the employee enough to work with. In order for them to fully grasp the issues, give specific examples of their performance lapses. You don’t have to beat them over the head with every instance, but you do need to make it clear.

The use of ‘talking points’ allows you to keep focused on the issues at hand. By sticking to the script, talking points also help to reduce the likelihood that emotions will hinder your ability to deliver a clear message.

Tip # 4: Listen to the employee

This is a frequently overlooked aspect of the difficult conversation process. In their zeal to get their point across, many managers turn this into a one-sided monologue. It is critical that you give the employee the opportunity to share their thoughts. Sometimes all you will hear are lame excuses. Other times, there are valid points that mitigate the performance deficit.

However, if the employee becomes defensive, politely interrupt them, and return to your talking points.

Tip # 5: Clarify expectations

This is the ideal time to reinforce what the expectations are. If the matter is part of an ongoing performance issue, you would be best served to create a performance improvement plan. Either way, you’ll need to restate what the expectations are, and gain employee commitment to those expectations.

Another best practice is to keep a real-time log of such discussions (date, time, issues etc.).

Tip # 6: Set a follow-up meeting

The best way to ensure that the employee fully understands that this matter will not be ignored, is to keep it on their radar. During your discussion, arrange for a follow-up meeting in a couple of weeks. At that meeting, make certain to get a progress update from the employee and provide them with your observations.

Nearly all of us avoid having difficult conversations. To start providing important and necessary constructive performance feedback, contact CAI’s Advice & Resolution team today!

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Tom Sheehan brings 20+ years of extensive, broad based strategic, tactical and practical HR experience to CAI’s Advice & Resolution team.  He advises HR and other business leaders on talent management, organizational effectiveness, employee engagement, M&A’s, and employee relations.

Understanding Your Younger Employees

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

Company leaders often complain about the unrealistic expectations of their millennial workers. Today’s youth, a.k.a. ‘millennials’— are said to be:Multiethnic Group of People Social Networking at Cafe

  1. difficult to manage
  2. likely to quit at a moment’s notice
  3. careless (i.e. they make needless mistakes as they forge ahead blindly without permission)

The youngest generation does differ from the older ones. But this has always been true.

Leaders within the organization should see how questions and challenges (i.e. Why does it have to be this way?) from their youngest employees can spark action to help their companies change for the better. In the process of listening, leaders will soon realize that young people want the same things we all do. Remember, millennials are vitally important to fill the void left by aging baby boomers and Gen Xers.

Keep in mind that many millennials continue to bear the burden of tens of thousands of dollars in student-loan debt. The debt has understandably influenced their decisions to join or leave companies.

Actions HR leaders can take to help create a better employer-employee relationship with millennials:

  1. Build bridges with data. Utilize people analytics to understand your youngest employees better. Gather data to track tenure, movement, performance evaluations, and attrition, as well as qualitative data to gauge engagement and find ways of increasing it. Share the results with middle managers so that they can connect the dots and tailor their management approach accordingly.
  2. Over communicate clarity. All employees are eager to hear from top management. However, younger employees expect this to happen at hyper speed. They are looking for real-time, two-way communication that allows input from everyone, followed by fairly immediate action. HR can help address this need by creating feedback platforms which allow employees to ask questions about specific topics and to engage on follow-up feedback requested by supervisors or senior management. This approach provides unprecedented visibility into issues and solutions and facilitates continuous improvement.
  3. Develop a culture of mentorship. Most young people thrive on collaborative work and support from colleagues. Meaningful personal relationships are crucial to help employers to hang on to their young workers.  Best practice is to partner new employees with an assigned sponsor who helps them to navigate the culture. Also encourage your new employees to reach out and form other mentoring relationships.
  4. Focus on professional growth. The ‘younger generation’ has grown up watching entrepreneurs reach the height of success before age 30, taking on responsibilities usually reserved for older executives. Many young professionals want a chance to flex their entrepreneurial muscles. They can quickly become frustrated by the lack of advancement opportunity in today’s flat organizational structures. Any kind of movement that promotes professional development is a plus (i.e. temporary projects over and above the day job). Additionally, young workers are typically energized by rotational programs. Other opportunities may include exposure to senior leaders, cross-functional work, and community service—elements that millennials value highly.

Every workplace has questions that need to be answered, and the sooner the better. Reach out to CAI’s Advice & Resolution team to get your questions answered today!

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Tom Sheehan brings 20+ years of extensive, broad based strategic, tactical and practical HR experience to CAI’s Advice & Resolution team.  He advises HR and other business leaders on talent management, organizational effectiveness, employee engagement, M&A’s, and employee relations.

5 Tips for Better HR Communications

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

One way to streamline HR processes is to improve your HR communication.

Leadership and communication

Below are 5 practical tips that should help you more effectively communicate with the workforce:

Tip # 1: Communication from HR must be authentic and hyper-relevant

Generally speaking, employees have lost some degree of trust in the authenticity of the company communications they receive. In particular, HR communications are often viewed by the workforce as being less than straightforward, with some sort of hidden agenda. To further complicate matters, employees often feel the communication they receive is not important to them directly.

Tip # 2: Create simple, timely communications that focus on what employees need to know and do

In the spirit of trying to create full disclosure, HR tends to ‘over-communicate.’ In doing so we cloud the message. We don’t need to share every detail.

Tip # 3: Tag actionable communications in the subject line with ‘Action required’

E-mails from HR are often too generic and lack a “What’s in it for me?” or “What am I supposed to do about this?” message for employees.

Here is a good example of how to communicate when action is required:

  1. Issue: All employees must re-enroll for benefits.
  2. Action you must take: Log onto xyz website, and complete enrollment by xyz date.
  3. What happens if you don’t act: Your benefits will not be renewed.

Tip # 4: Don’t hide behind e-mails

It is also important to realize that your communications cannot be solely in the form of e-mails and memos sent to the masses. Follow up important company-wide communications with face-to-face interaction. This might include such things as town-hall meetings or stand-up department meetings to highlight key points. Make certain to open these meetings up for questions.

This type of interaction fosters a culture that shows the company cares about employees and wants their voices to be heard. Smaller companies can be more personal in their communications, using in-person meetings followed up by next-step e-mails.

Other ways HR can help set the tone for effective communications:

  • Establish training and clear guidelines on the proper use of emails (including cc’s, volume, respond times)
  • Create a consistent, clear format for company-wide communications
  • Establish a ‘gate-keeper’ for large-scale communications to the workforce
  • Encourage the better use of virtual technology—i.e. Live Meeting, WebEx, Skype, and MS Lync

Tip # 5: Hold ‘All Hands’ Meetings

In terms of communicating the company strategy, the use of quarterly ‘all-hands’ company meetings are frequently helpful. These meetings are typically facilitated by an HR leader and run by a member of the senior leadership team. During the meetings, leaders discuss the progress being made relative to the company goals and strategies. These meetings are also used as a means to proactively address employee concerns that may be gaining momentum.

If you need help thinking through your HR/Employee communications learn how CAI can help you create the best workplace for your employees.

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Tom Sheehan brings 20+ years of extensive, broad based strategic, tactical and practical HR experience to CAI’s Advice & Resolution team.  He advises HR and other business leaders on talent management, organizational effectiveness, employee engagement, M&A’s, and employee relations.

Talent Acquisition: The Power of Recruiter Pushback

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016

One difficulty faced by most recruiters is how to balance the desire to provide great customer service to the hiring manager with the need to speak freely about real issues pertaining to the recruitment process. Conducting a brief job specifications meeting with the hiring manager (prior to initiating the recruitment effort) helps to identify the target and set clear accountabilities for both of you. However, there are clearly times when you need to pushback if the hiring manager is not properly partnering with you.  keepcalmandpushback

Done appropriately, pushback can elevate you from being an ‘order taker’ to becoming a trusted advisor whose input and views are solicited before anything takes place involving talent acquisition.

Here are a few reasons that pushback can be helpful:

♦ Pushback sets clear roles, responsibilities, and timelines for successful partnerships. Once established, it will lead to a far more effective working relationship.

♦ Pushback enables an honest exchange of ideas and open dialogue in areas of disagreement. This exchange ultimately translates into doing the right thing for the hiring manager, the candidate, and the company. For example, sometimes you just need to ‘speak up’ and tell the hiring manager that the candidate they have locked onto is just not a good fit.

♦ Pushback demands accountability from your hiring managers and yourself as it relates to the quality of the process, the interview experience, and the candidate experience. For example, if the hiring manager is claiming to be too busy to review résumés or conduct interviews, pushback may be in order.

♦ Pushback educates and informs your hiring manager about the candidates, the market, the desirability of the position, sourcing strategy, obstacles, compensation levels, and the teamwork required to close the deal.

How do you establish pushback so that it is seen as a positive experience that will enhance processes and improve results?

Here are some tips to start:

  • Do not select your most difficult hiring manager to practice on and be sure you prepare for the conversation in advance. For example, if you are pushing back on the way candidates are being treated in interviews, make a list of what the behaviors are and why they are detrimental.
  • Don’t allow pushback to turn into rudeness or disrespect. Always approach the topic in a respectful manner and be prepared to lay out a well-considered case while being open to new ideas. Remember, HR roles are usually advisory in nature and the hiring manager may, or may not, choose to follow your advice.
  • Pick your battles. While some hiring managers welcome feedback and change, many struggle with it. Bringing a laundry list of complaints to the table may put your hiring managers on the defensive. Don’t be afraid of a healthy dialogue. At times it might resemble an argument, and that’s okay as long as the conversation is productive and the end result is positive for both parties.

In summary, think about pushback as a tool to open the lines of discussion and unplug the talent acquisition bottleneck. Plan your strategy, come to the table armed with research, advice based upon experience, and be prepared for some healthy pushback on your pushback. You will be a better recruiter for it.

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Tom Sheehan brings 20+ years of extensive, broad based strategic, tactical and practical HR experience to CAI’s Advice & Resolution team.  He advises HR and other business leaders on talent management, organizational effectiveness, employee engagement, M&A’s, and employee relations.