Are small business owners afraid of tough conversations with employees?

Are small business owners afraid of tough conversations with employees?

I think there is a fundamental flaw in people management across the small to medium business sector. Performance issues are being identified, but not dealt with.

The lengths managers go to avoid tough conversations with their employees have always astounded me. According to corporate communications expert Alec Grimsley in his book on the topic, Vital Conversations, and supported by our daily observations across the wattsnext client base, only two out of ten managers have the confidence to have a tough conversation.

You need cogs to spin a wheel, and in large corporates or bureaucratic government departments, there is definitely room for plenty of cogs. But in small business the risk is too high to accept mediocrity or poor performance – you just need to keep the wheel spinning!   

Here are my top three tips on what to do once poor or mediocre employees have been identified in your business:


1. Eat that frog


If poor performance or mediocrity is identified, don’t procrastinate. As Mark Twain famously said, “If the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long”. Never avoid calling an employee on their effort, the issue won’t go away.


2. Engagement


Poor performing or mediocre employees can be a sign of boredom or complacency. Challenge individuals to grow, develop and be better. Talk about future opportunities and discuss ways to bridge skills gaps. Reward extra effort and celebrate team members going the extra mile, everyone walks taller and becomes more effective when the team is engaged.


3. Communication


Communication should be regular and in both directions. No employee should ever be unsure of your expectations, but equally, you need to encourage them to communicate to you. Sadly, lack of communication is often the root cause of average performance. Never assume employees understand your expectations or standards, always make a conscious effort to regularly remind them.

You might have noticed three tips have something in common – having a tough conversation.

Poor and mediocre performers are costing your business money. You don’t have time to sit back and wait for it to get better. Often the indirect costs like lowered morale and developing a toxic culture can be crippling to an SME, far worse than teaching your managers how to have a tough conversation.

Putting off a difficult conversation will never make the conversation easier. But for every day you put it off your business is suffering.

If this blog brings a mediocre employee to mind, it is time to stand up and as all good managers should, go and eat that frog!

Sue-Ellen Watts is the founder and director of wattsnext, specialists in HR, recruitment, compliance and people performance.


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