Shari Harley, owner of the training and consulting firm Candid Culture, tells you how.
You get what you ask for. Therefore, before you can complain about how an employee behaves, you must revisit what kind of behavior you asked for. “We hire people we think are just like us, but we don’t tell them our expectations because we assume they know,” Harley explains. “Then they do something unexpected and we’re shocked.”
According to this training expert, author of the new book How to Say Anything to Anyone, and guest seminar speaker at the recent ALA Conference, the problem lies with you and not the employee. How can someone do what you want when you never spelled out exactly what that is? Whether you are welcoming a new hire or partnering with another group or firm on a project, Harley recommends conducting a verbal contract that outlines how the two parties will interact with each other.
“Most business relationships lack an agreement outlining who does what and how issues that arise will be managed,” she says. “Setting expectations at the beginning of anything new – a meeting, a relationship, or a project – makes it easier to address frustrating behaviors when they happen. And they will happen.”
Harley asks, “What if you set the expectation that when someone violates such an agreement that you both not only have the right, but are expected, to say something?” People just might learn to tell each other the truth, she comments.
Although supervisors don’t need permission to give their direct reports feedback, many are hesitant to do so, Harley writes in her book. They don’t want to offend or damage a new relationship. Like most people, managers are concerned that if they give negative feedback, they won’t be liked or their employees might quit.
Harley states, “You might be thinking, ‘It’s my boss’ job to give me feedback. I shouldn’t have to ask for it.’ And you are right. But if he doesn’t, you are at a huge disadvantage. “She cites the reasons why: You might not be given opportunities and never know why; you may spend massive amounts of time on projects that aren’t really important; and you may think your performance is strong, only to find out it wasn’t when you receive a mediocre performance review. “Yes, your boss should give you feedback without your having to ask for it, but your righteousness won’t get you any closer to the career or business relationship you want.”
Just saying “I want you to provide good customer service isn’t enough; get explicit,” Harley states. If you want a certain dress code in the office, ask for it. “Every person you hired that didn’t work out is entirely predictable,” Harley remarks. “In fact, 99.99 percent of breakdowns with other people are predictable. Start thinking, ‘Where have I been disappointed?’ and ‘What am I not asking for?’”
Harley advises against giving long deadlines. For example, ask to see a draft in two weeks. In the same vein, “Don’t ask, ‘Any questions?’ but say, ‘So that I know that I’ve been clear, what am I asking for?’”
If employees are not doing what you want, there’s not enough positive or negative consequences, she remarks. The consequences don’t have to mean a firing, but it could be a conversation, Harley suggests. “If you address behavior that you don’t want each time it happens, the employees will either change that behavior or they will leave.”
Furthermore, it’s best to give small amounts of feedback on a regular basis. “People would rather hear they’re not doing well in two-minute increments instead of an hour-long performance review,” she states.
Know Your Employees
Instead of the word “subordinate,” Harley prefers the term “direct reports.” All of us have a, perhaps unspoken, list in our heads of what would be a deal-breaker in a job, but do you know the deal-breakers for each of your direct reports? You had better find out if you want to retain good workers.
“Most of your employees won’t tell you when they’re unhappy; they’re telling someone else,” she quips. “If someone does work that they enjoy doing, they’ll stay in that job. People only have a small threshold for failure; that’s why what they enjoy doing is what they’re good at. People want to work for people who care about them.”
Asking what employees want demonstrates that you take an interest in them, want them to be happy, and will do what you can to make that happen. Managers sometimes assume that others want what they themselves want, according to Harley. “If we want a flexible work schedule, then others must want one, too. If we appreciate recognition in the form of a spot bonus, our employees must want that as well.” However, Harley says this is not the case. “People need different things to be happy. If we don’t ask them, we’ll never know what those things are.”
“We tend to coach and manage people how we like to communicate,” Harley notes. Each person has a different learning style for taking in information. Some take notes, some prefer visual cues, some are better at hearing information, and others do best with a kinesthetic approach.
I tell people that I’m on their side and that I care about them, she comments. I’m planting those seeds of trust so when I need to have a different conversation with them, it’s easier.” The most important thing to remember is that it’s never too late to start communicating better.