Counseling a direct report creates a lot of anxiety as well as the potential for undesired outcomes. Some would rather put up with the lack of productivity or bad behavior, then deal with the tension that accompanies a face-to-face meeting on performance. I have worked with organizations that very gregarious leaders became unable to finish a sentence when confronted with giving employees negative feedback. Nevertheless, the tension that accompanies the actual meeting holds only a portion of the potential “fallout.”
Similar to the typical human cycle when dealing with anything that does not coincide with our internal view of reality, most employees move through four phases when presented with negative feedback: shock, sadness, anger, and blame. I recently spoke with a leader that had given a direct report constructive feedback on a variety of performance issues. The direct report was a weak manager and needed guidance to improve his individual as well as his team’s performance. As the leader attempted to address the issue, the manager became angrier and more creative in his excuses. After considerable effort on the part of the leader, the manager resolved to blame the leader of favoritism. He simply equated his lack of performance on the fact that someone else was the leader’s favorite.
Although we all recognize that feedback is critical to performance, employee engagement, and leading a team, the results will not always be as we hope. For example, a recent survey by HCS asked 150 managers in various industries about the results of their counseling efforts. Figure 1 captures how managers viewed the outcome of their efforts. The most common occurrence was a lack of improvement and disengagement (32 percent) followed by actual improvement, but only over a short time period (24 percent). The middle response, no improvement and no change in behavior resulted almost 20 percent of the time. No improvement with hostility and improvement over the long term occupy roughly the same likelihood (12 percent). These results may seem grim, but resemble the findings of other research on the ease of rehabilitation of poor performing employees.
What can we do to improve this percentage?
- Schedule a conference with the employee and identify specific differences between the desired and actual performance.
- Provide specific actions the employee should take to correct the problem and give reasonable timelines for the employee to demonstrate improvement.
- Listen to the employee and consider the barriers identified by the employee that impedes performance.
- Consider that some compromise may be necessary from a process, but not a outcome standpoint.
- Make sure he or she can verbalize what needs to be done back to you.
- Ensure that the employee understands that his or her success links to the organizational success.
- Be supportive and make sure that the employee knows you are willing to talk about his or her ideas for success again.