How to give feedback to under-performers

April 9, 2012

Q: One of my managers cannot address his poor performers. We talk about it, he agrees to do it, then returns with reasons why he didn’t have the conversation. Any tips?

A: Even seasoned managers can cringe at that thought of confronting their loyal staff with bad news. It can be so anxiety provoking they procrastinate, deny, turn a blind eye, excuse, give in or give up. Unfortunately, poor performance doesn’t heal itself.

Shift your manager’s attitude. Remind him that since most people want to do well, they welcome feedback intended to support their development. Leadership’s commitment to preserving an employee’s job rather than setting him up for termination can deepen their relationship.

Your manager may be feeling responsible or guilty that this represents his own failure to support his staff. Consider having the employee’s performance review be reflected in his overall performance rating to hold him accountable. Without consequences, what motivates the manager to keep his team on track?

Enlist a coach or HR consultant to role-play the conversation, anticipate reactions and ways to address them. Have the manager follow these simple steps:

  • Write down the concern with specific examples.
  • List the consequences and implication of the employee’s actions.
  • Identify possible solutions and/or resources for the employee: i.e. coach, mentor, course
  • Set uninterrupted time aside to meet with the employee. Have a clear desired outcome. Prepare mentally.
  • During the meeting, be matter of fact, respectful and direct.
  • Ask the employee for their perspective. Listen openly, offer support.
  • Document next steps in a work plan. Hold employee accountable. Give specific feedback.

Your manager is also under performing. In the bigger picture, what might this reveal about your organization’s culture?

Originally printed in The Province, April 8, 2012.

Set the tone for meetings

September 26, 2011

Q: My staff’s harsh criticisms of different viewpoints are preventing the sharing of innovative ideas in meetings. How can I create a more open exchange of dialogue?

A: Besides bringing in a neutral systems coach trained to resolve the team’s underlying conflict, role modelling by a leader is an effective way to achieve behavioural changes. The coaching skills of listening and asking curious questions would help break through the resistance.

Clear out your thoughts and agenda to focus attention on the speaker. If you are sorting and assessing the speaker’s message while they are speaking, you are NOT fully hearing them. You are filtering communication through assumptions and opinions. Listen beyond literal words, voice tone and their delivery. What is the underlying message they are trying to convey? What is their good intention beneath the words? What are they not saying?

Asking simple curious questions in a matter of fact manner will flush out their point of view. Seemingly obvious or dumb questions posed with sincere curiosity will encourage the speaker to disclose even more. Open ended questions that steer toward the positive in their viewpoint and begin with “what” will expand the conversation. For example: What is superior about this solution? What is the benefit? What would this afford us?

Avoid “why” questions that may make the speaker inadvertently feel interrogated or defensive. If the meeting becomes heated, neutralize it by curiously questioning the conflict – ensuring you are exhibiting judgment-free listening and dispassionate questioning. Your consistent follow through will demonstrate new meeting expectations promoting trust and safety so staff are motivated to contribute their ideas.

Originally published in The Province, September 25, 2011.

End bullying in workplace

January 4, 2010

 Q: My boss’s friend is disregarding my role as her supervisor, treating me rudely and telling lies about me. As a leader, how can I prevent this kind of behaviour from spreading throughout the organization?

A: Examples of workplace bullying include being spoken to in a dismissive tone (“talked down to”); spreading malicious rumours; gossip or innuendo that isn’t true; character assassinations; an arrogant attitude; screaming; swearing or being hypercritical. Tolerating this type of behaviour from a subordinate will diminish your authority with others. The most effective way to ending abuse is to demonstrate management’s commitment to respect at work.

-Create a workplace code of conduct with concrete examples of acceptable/ unacceptable behaviours and working conditions. Distribute this among staff, encouraging their input and buy-in.

-Set up a written process for recording and dealing with all conflicts seriously, promptly and confidentially without reprisal to the target. Outline the consequences for acts of bullying and the effective start date of the prevention program.

-Initially, targets should attempt to work out situations themselves by firmly telling the bully their behaviour is unacceptable and asking them to stop. They should record abusive events with the date, time and a detailed account of what happened. Maintain copies of all correspondence from the perpetrator.

If the behaviour continues, the complainant should report it to their supervisor. If their concern is minimized or dismissed, they should escalate to the next level of management. An impartial third party should be available to resolve situations when necessary. Retaliation is not an option; when a victim becomes a perpetrator, it can evaluate the situation and make abuse more pervasive.

Originally printed in The Province  January 3, 2010.

Bully victim must seek help

November 23, 2009

Q: I am the victim of office bullying and my supervisor turns a blind eye to the situation. What can I do?

A: We expect bullying will end once we leave the school yard; however, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute (, almost half of working Americans have been affected by bullying on the job.

Workplace bullies use words or actions to assert power over their targets through aggression. They degrade, belittle, sabotage, threaten or humiliate to psychologically hurt or isolate.

If you feel you are the victim of bullying, first acknowledge that it’s happening and the emotional stress on you. Don’t allow this cruelty to undermine your self-confidence or feel ashamed of yourself. Stop being a target by seeking the advice of a mentor, coach or health professional who understands bullying.

Recognize that the perpetrator needs to control someone who enables or tolerates their behaviour. It continues as long as it is rewarded with the desired reaction or response. What repercussions are you afraid of that are preventing you from standing your ground?

While you can’t change another person, you can influence the situation by asserting yourself. Only confront the bully if your physical safety isn’t threatened. Only address the facts by remaining calm and professional. Don’t show any weakness or self-doubt.

Often subtle, bullying can go undetected — except by the intended target. Document the offensive behaviour and tell your supervisor so it is exposed. If the abuse continues, you can contact the provincial human-rights office or a lawyer to determine your right to recourse.

Bullying doesn’t flourish where it’s not tolerated. If you are not getting the support you need from your leaders, you may decide to leave the workplace with your dignity for an organization committed to a culture of respect.

Originally printed in The Province, November 22, 2009.

How to handle a boss who breaks promises

February 8, 2009

Q: My boss promises incentives for achieving targets, but when we reach them, he gives every reason why we won’t get them. With the economy the way it is, I can’t afford to make waves and get fired, but I have lost trust and respect for him. How can I get beyond this?

A: Your boss is in the position of authority, but you have a choice — and experiencing that choice offers you freedom and peace even if you don’t get your desired results.

You can choose to resolve this by developing new alternatives where you both still reach your goals and maintain your relationship. Express your point of view in a calm, neutral way without attacking him. Document and verify all future agreements up front.

If your boss still disagrees, you have been true to yourself and you’ll know where you stand. You can’t always change a person’s mind or the situation, no matter how hard you try. Instead of fighting a losing battle, you can decide to accommodate. In other words, let it go.

You can opt to overpower him by taking it to an influential ally or higher power to force the issue. But what’s the long-range cost to you? If his behaviour reflects the organization’s culture, this could be a no-win situation. It might be wise to cut your losses and move on.

Alternatively you can compromise on what goals you are willing to give up in exchange for others. Staying put means contending with this boss. Is it worth the trade-off of not having to job hunt?

Stewing about bad treatment breeds resentment and drains your energy. Refocus on what brings you satisfaction at work. Set your own benchmarks and incentives for attaining them. If you can’t find a way to minimize conflict, minimize the contact.

Originally printed in The Province on February 8, 2009.