101 Tough Conversations to Have with Employees by Peter Falcone

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This book is most useful to new supervisors, individuals new to human resources, and seasoned managed who don’t want to admit that HR is not their cup of tea.  The book offers a vast range of scenarios to highlight the variety of issues that are actually HR issues.  It not unusual for non-HR supervisors to say, “I didn’t think it was an HR issue” or “I didn’t see the need to get HR involved” when asked why they didn’t reach out for assistance and guidance before a problem became entrenched.  The book also touches on legal issues in a manner more accessible than typical training seminars.  Oftentimes, seminar participants have difficulty time seeing the day-to-day legal exposure they actually face because most seminars focus on rules.  The strength of this book is that it provides context.  The scenarios highlight common legal issues, i.e., potential harassment claims, and ones that may blind-side non-HR leaders, i.e., constructive discharge.  Finally, the scenarios are useful because most supervisors who don’t work in HR departments would never sign up for a workshop that seems to focus on HR.

Falcone offers one approach that I believe is particularly useful: focus on managing perceptions.  When engaging employees, it is more useful to use language that tells them how their behavior and attitude are perceived rather than you telling them what the behavior is, i.e., instead of saying that an employee has a bad attitude, tell him that his peers have brought xyz to your attention, that the impact of xyz is abc, and it looks like 123 to you and the team.  In turn, the goal then becomes helping the employee see how this perception came into place and how it is harmful.  Ultimately, this strategy helps you focus the conversation on alignment with organizational culture and values.  Falcone also uses the perception strategy as a tool for helping supervisors address interpersonal skills.  So many bosses are afraid to address attitude and demeanor under the guise of, “You can’t regulate personalities”.  While that is true, you shouldn’t be held hostage when people problems negatively impact the environment; thus Falcone guides readers toward a strategy like this one:

The perception among your peers is that you don’t enjoy working with them and that you go out of your to avoid team work.  The issues they raise include your tone of voice and body language when interacting with them intense hesitation toward work that isn’t squarely within your job description.  Can you see how or why that perception exists?  What can you and I do to change it?

Lastly, the book offers some stalwart HR messages.  The challenge with these consistent messages is that they aren’t often heeded until someone has had to swallow the bitter bile of defeat when addressing a problem.  Nevertheless, below are the common messages:

•Trigger guilt. Yes, guilt!  Okay, it sounds worse than what it is.  The author is referring to intentionally structuring conversations so that the employee doesn’t feel like s/he is being treated like a child and accepts some responsibility for the situation.  Falcone also suggests offering an employee the afternoon off (with pay) to fully digest information and make decisions when the conversation is particularly difficult.  Time to think allows the person’s sense of self-respect to remain intact, and it strengthens your reputation for being reasonable.

•Be clear. More specifically, making it clear when a discussion is more than a mere conversation.  An employee needs to know when a change in his behavior isn’t optional, what kind of follow up is going to take place, and what the potential consequences are if the problem continues/worsens.

•Maintain documentation and letting employees know that you are keeping track. Even if you aren’t actually writing up a reprimand, it is important to let the employee know when you tracking certain conversations and meetings. Besides, conversations are part of the progressive discipline process.  Moreover, by being upfront with employees, you make it even clearer that you expect a change in behavior.  It also shows that you’re fair and honest.  Finally, if you show up at a later point in time with a stack of documentation that the employee never knew was being maintained, you, the supervisor, look bad EVEN IF THE EMPLOYEE HAS PROBLEMS.

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