Delay, Delay

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My attorney friends have a saying: “Delay, delay. The witness may die or go away.” In may experience, too many supervisors feel that way about talking to their people about behavior and performance issues.

HR Morning recently posted on the issue with the headline: “The hidden cost of delaying those ‘difficult conversations.'” Here’s the lead.

“Talk may be cheap, but it seems silence is expensive. You won’t believe how much a new survey says it costs when employees put off having crucial conversations about workplace issues.”

The consulting firm, VitalSmarts, conducted an online survey that drew 656 responses. You can download a PDF of the Survey Results. The process is seriously flawed, but still highlights an important issue.

The firm says that the margin of error is “approximately 3 percent.” Unless there’s something in the methodology I missed, that number is fairy dust, since no sample was created and no population was defined.

Most of the “findings” are fairy dust too, especially the ones about “cost to the organization of avoiding or putting off the conversation.” Those are estimates by respondents with no guidelines for how they are to be calculated.

Most distressing to me, there is not option for “I had the conversation and it went horribly.” The assumption seems to be that things went well, no matter how long the conversation was delayed.

That’s not how it works. The longer you put a conversation about performance or behavior off, the harder it is to get a good outcome.

That leads us to one worthwhile bit of data from this survey. Only 15 percent of respondents said they handled the conversation, “quickly and well.”

This is not surprising. In 2008, I blogged on “Three reasons why managers don’t do people management.” Supervisory conversations are the most difficult and most-dreaded part of people management.

For years I asked class participants to name the part of the job they hated most. “Talking to team members about performance and behavior issues” came out on top every time.

The fact is that if you’re a boss and you don’t have timely and helpful conversations with your team members about behavior and performance, both productivity and morale suffer. We can fix this, but it won’t be easy.

Select new supervisors based on their demonstrated willingness to talk to others about behavior and performance.

Provide supervisors with training on how to hold these conversations effectively.

Evaluate supervisors on how they conduct supervisory conversations.

Boss’s Bottom Line

Supervisory conversations are one of the most important parts of your job. They’re critical to both performance and morale. Learn to do them well. Then do them promptly.

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