We need to talk - having difficult conversations with difficult employees

I‘ve had some great conversations recently with a big range of business, charity and voluntary sector leaders. Yesterday I talked to two very different but inspiring women, one a partner with a leading law firm, the other an ex-captain of the England Ladies rugby team.

One area I talked about with both of them was honest conversations at work - having difficult conversations with employees, and the importance of having them sooner rather than later.

We are regularly called to clients who have a ‘problem’ employee, often who has been a problem for some time. They are not performing, certainly not to their previous level. Sometimes they have only been there a short time and not lived up to the promise they showed at interview.

Every business has employee issues at some time (every business that we know). The important fact is that they need to be dealt with quickly and honestly, with the target of an outcome – which can mean a revitalised, refocused employee, or at the other end of the spectrum, a decision to leave the business.

It is of great comfort to me knowing advice regarding HR is just a phone call away

Rob Rudd

In our experience, an under-performing employee is an unhappy employee. A confidential conversation can open up the reasons for the underperformance, (which will have been noticed by other employees who may be questioning the lack of management action) and lead to a conclusion.

There will be plenty to think about before sitting down with the employee but always, always be prepared and be ready to establish the facts. The discussion could go into unexpected areas, so be open to listening and asking questions to understand why. It’s often useful to talk through the situation with someone before going into bat.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions that may appear too direct. You will need to be sensitive and careful not to discriminate but don’t shy away. Keep in mind that it’s the solution, not the confrontation that is the objective.

And once you have your outcome, you will be able to get on running your business without continually looking over your shoulder. And so will your employee. And so will the rest of your team. And your customers.

My conversation with the lawyer and the rugby captain concluded that women are better at difficult conversations than men. Maybe men feel they have more to lose but we would tend to agree.

The ACAS guide on the subject is worth reading, or for more information and a confidential discussion, contact us on 07813-994556.