“They just don’t get it!” How many times have you heard your managers lament that their direct reports missed a deadline, failed at a task, or didn’t have the strongest approach to a situation? Perhaps they didn’t step up to a challenge that was presented to them, and your team is beyond frustrated that their employees don’t seem to be expending the discretionary effort that managers want, and your organizations need, to reach the next level.
Employees want to perform well and exceed expectations. But what are those expectations? Many executives and managers direct performance with minimal one-way communication and a quick “Understood?” to wrap it all up. No, it is not understood. So, let’s slow down and mutually develop and communicate goals; understand how we got to these goals; articulate and review expectations and the time frames; provide time for clarifying questions; and arrange for a schedule of check-ins so everyone is clear about the plan and that everything is on track for successful, timely, completion. Many managers think they do this, and their employees will disagree. In fact, if you were to ask managers, “Did you have conversations and clear check-ins with your teams?” they will say yes. If you then ask the employees, it’s a good bet half will say “no” or “not really.”
Implied Expectations Can Create Confusion and Conflict in the Workplace
The solid discussion of a project and the expectations, accountabilities, and what success looks like are the business version of “measure twice; cut once.” A conversation is necessary because the individuals involved often have vastly different expectations, priorities, and workflows, and that discrepancy is rarely made explicit. Everyone involved needs to establish his or her needs and bandwidth while remaining honest and transparent. Honesty and transparency can build trust and understanding among colleagues, making future collaborations even easier.
These kinds of preparatory conversations are not micromanagement—they are great management. When everyone participates in the conversation about a project, a manager can solicit ideas, questions, and commitment—everything needed for a successful resolution.
Open the Communication
An atmosphere of open communication and collaboration also encourages managers and employees to look for opportunities for individual feedback. When a manager has more insight into the way staff members approach work, he or she can ask more specific questions about the work they are doing and about any challenges they are facing, as well as provide support, redirection as needed, encouragement, and positive feedback. Managers are busy with what they see as their own work, but their biggest responsibility and greatest focus of time are the employees who report to them and the employees who report to their direct reports.
Without individual feedback, employees aren’t strongly tethered to the organization and feel very little investment from the organization. Managers ask about their pay, their benefits—we invest plenty! It’s not enough if you want the extra effort. Maximum effort—that makes an employee extraordinary.
Individual Feedback Is About Conversation and Connectedness
Managers need to have development conversations with employees throughout the year: Be familiar with and comment about their contributions to the company. Ask about their personal situation, and know the basics about them. Learn what their aspirations are, and discuss how you might be able to help them.
Discuss what you see or hear about them doing well, and ask what they think they can do better and how they are working to make that happen. There are many formal and informal ways to provide feedback and create situations where it is welcomed. This won’t happen in one conversation but many, and it won’t happen at all if it isn’t a priority and authentic. Don’t save up these opportunities to provide feedback or try to look them up at the end of the quarter or year to include in a formal review. Be opportunistic about feedback (provide it regularly), and be strategic (make it a scheduled priority).
Conflict at Work Needs to be Accepted as a Given
Different perspectives are critical to organizational vitality and growth. Colleagues need to have dissenting opinions as they explore new ideas, challenge each other to higher achievement, and evaluate alternative approaches, but when the level of disagreement is raised to unresolved conflict, management must step in.
Conflict can be caused by frustration over a lack of communication or a lack of a shared understanding or unclear expectations. Many of the causes of conflict can be eliminated by better management and greater communication; the sooner the better. Conflict can also be caused by bad behavior, and avoiding conflict by not dealing with any of these occurrences ensures the conflict will escalate. Managers may have their own style of dealing with conflict, and they need to demonstrate an effective method—avoidance is not an option.
Addressing an entire group of people about a conflict had by a small number of people, perhaps two, is not the method for success. Many leaders make this choice because they think it demonstrates to the employees that the conflict (of which they are all aware) is being dealt with—but it shows the opposite.
Identify and deal with the sources of the conflict. Are they people or processes or some other kind of pressure? Time and process and other intangibles can be dealt with by group or leadership review, but people need to be communicated with individually if they are involved or perhaps the source of conflict. Everyone has to be offered the opportunity to communicate challenges and issues. Managers must suspend judgment and listen carefully, which is not always easy. Direct and honest feedback has to happen with all parties involved. HR experts know how to support conflict resolution, and regularly scheduled training can support the elimination of the emotional and business impact of avoiding conflict
Elaine Varelas, Managing Partner at Keystone Partners, has over 20 years of experience in career consulting and coaching development and has worked with numerous executive management teams to improve organizational effectiveness. She has expertise in successfully resolving complex career management issues, including workforce planning, redeployment, and multisite restructurings.