Radical Candour – it’s about those tough conversations

When we talk to our clients about how they can improve their business, inevitably many conversations turn to employees.

Sadly too often we hear from owners and managers that they believe employees aren’t working to the standard the employer wants them to be.  For instance, “Bec makes too many mistakes”, “Sarah doesn’t get enough done as spends half the day on her personal phone calls” or “Will spent four hours doing something that should have taken him two.”

This is called an expectation gap and this can be a dangerous thing.  If you leave it go, sometimes that gap becomes a chasm so wide and deep that it’s impossible to build a bridge over.  This can be the beginning of the end to what once may have been a very good employer/employee relationship filled with potential!

Generally the source of these expectation gaps come from  –

  1. a lack of communication – between the two of you, within the team or with a client or supplier – this can be fixed
  2. a failing in a process or system in the business.  Again, this can be fixed.

But, my first question to my clients when I hear about these expectation gaps is always – “have you told them?”

Too often it’s a “No.” or “I don’t know how to” or “I don’t know what to say” or even worse “Shouldn’t they know?”

Put simply. No!

As a leader in your business this is your responsibility.

I admit, this happened to me only the other day.  A project we were working on wasn’t going as well as I wanted at Atticus and it was making me uncomfortable and frustrated.  Why couldn’t we get the result I wanted!!?

I was talking it through with my coach and I admit I was having a good old fashioned whinge to him about it.

I finally said, somewhat sheepishly, “Maybe it’s my fault, maybe I didn’t explain it well enough.”

He pulled me up, bluntly and said, “I’ll stop you there May, it’s always you, you’re the leader and it’s always your problem.  Now, what do you think you need to do to fix this?”  I sighed, he was right of course, the answer was obvious – it was me and it was me that needed to initiate the honest and frank discussion with the team and admit that this project wasn’t going as well as I had expected.  The team are smart people – they were probably frustrated too.  When I thought about it objectively I knew having a chat about it was the only way we could work together to get a better result.  Simple!!

Well, no, it’s not simple, I get that – it can be really hard, daunting or nerve wracking to have these conversations. If you are one of the few leaders who have mastered them, you deserve a massive pat on the back.

For many budding leaders or small business owners this is a big challenge and something you may not have faced in your career.

I’ll tell you first up – it takes practice.  It’s no different to working out at the gym – you need to consistently stretch and build up your feedback muscles.   Open up and be honest.  If you really don’t know how to open the conversation then a simple statement like “I have something I really need your help with and I admit I’m struggling to talk to you about it. Is it ok we have a chat?”.  Explain the problem to the employee, explain why it’s affecting the business or their team around them, ask them for their feedback and opinion (and be prepared to listen openly to this!) and find a solution together.

Mutually agree and write down “to do’s” or actionable items from the meeting – you both might have some things you need to do to improve the situation.

Secondly, follow up.  Schedule a chat in two weeks to discuss what progress has been made to tick off your “to do’s”.  If it’s a bigger issue you might find that you need two or three follow up chats until the problem has been fully put to bed.

Kim Scott has written a fabulous book called Radical Candor to help you build these skills.  Kim explains that giving feedback candidly to your employees is not just your job, it’s actually your moral obligation.  By failing to do this you, as a leader, have crept in to what she calls the “Manipulative Insincerity” quadrant!  Have a read of this great article which sums it up nicely. 

So what I want you to do is think of one thing in your business that you would love to improve, if you could.  Pick that one thing and have a chat to the relevant team member about it today.  Get to it!  Build those “Radical Candor” muscles and I would love to hear how you go!

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