The second-least-fun thing about managing

Graphic image of a Mardi Gras "tragedy" mask in purple and greenGiving negative feedback.

No one likes to do it.

Even for those who don’t mind conflict, it’s hard. For those who struggle with conflict, it’s really hard.

The temptation to close eyes, stick fingers in ears, and hum “la-la-la-la-la” is enormous – meaning, to pretend nothing’s happening (and maybe if you hope real hard, it will go away).

But guess what: it’s not going away.

The need to give corrective feedback is a reality of managing and leading.

So let’s talk about how to do it the best possible way.

What’s going on?

The opening lines from the Buffalo Springfield song “For What It’s Worth” comes to mind. (Have I just dated myself?)

There’s something happening here

What it is, ain’t exactly clear…

If you’re not clear about exactly what’s happening and what you want the outcome to be, you can’t give clear direction.

And if you can’t give clear direction, chances are you’re not going to see the changes you want to see.

Your first task, therefore, is to write down exactly what your employee is doing that you want done differently.

What are the incorrect actions, and what’s the un-desired outcome?

What should be done?

The second task is to write down exactly what change you want to see – including a clear description of what the result looks and feels like.

If your employee doesn’t know what “success” is, how can they achieve it?

Remember, while you know what the outcome should be, your employee doesn’t, or you wouldn’t have this problem. And while you might think it’s obvious what should happen, again, your employee doesn’t … or you wouldn’t be having this problem. (For more on this, see “Why don’t they KNOW already?”)

What do they need?

I can hear you thinking, “They need to just do it right!

But here’s an interesting little fact: most employees sincerely want to do a good job, and the primary reason why they don’t is a lack of resources.

They might not have the skill, training, experience, knowledge, or physical resources they need.

How do you find out? That’s the next step.

What do you say?

Be curious. Ask why they’re not succeeding. What’s getting in their way? What do they need?

And then make sure they get it.

It might be that simple.

But it might not. So here’s a summary of the steps to take to set your employee back on track.

What to remember (a quick checklist)

Always give corrective feedback behind closed doors. It’s no one else’s business.

DO NOT use the so-called “feedback sandwich.” That’s where you “sandwich” the corrective feedback between two bits of positive feedback. While it’s sometimes helpful to offer kudos to a struggling employee (see “What do you do when a trainee won’t learn?”), that’s not what you’re doing here, and the “feedback sandwich” is an outdated, proven-ineffective tactic.

Stick to facts, not feelings. As the manager and leader, your feelings are irrelevant in this situation. (Sorry, but it’s true.) Go back to your previously-written descriptions of what’s going wrong and what needs to change.

Reach agreement on what will happen and by when (again, go back to your written descriptions). Make sure they understand what success looks like.

Follow up with an email outlining the conversation and agreed-upon changes.

And then follow up to make sure the changes actually happen according to schedule.

What? All that?

Yep, all that.

This may look like a lot, but it’s actually a quick and fairly easy process. The challenge lies in actually doing it, and carrying through with the appropriate follow-up to make sure what you’ve asked for is actually happening.

Managing performance problems isn’t fun.

But the consequences of not managing them … well, that’s even less fun.

In fact, that’s the FIRST-least-fun thing about managing: having to fire someone.


For more on managing difficult employees, click here to receive the mini ebook “The Five Most Challenging Employees – and how to manage them.”

And then click here to view my YouTube playlist on Managing Difficult Employees.

gljudson Difficult people