I'm currently facing a issue  in my role where I need to address some performance issues with certain team members. I find myself hesitating to start these conversations as I'm not sure  about the best approach to deliver constructive feedback while maintaining a positive relationship with my team.

I'd appreciate any advice from fellow managers on how to effectively navigate these difficult conversations. How do you start giving feedback in a way that motivates improvement without demoralizing your team members? And how do you handle resistance or defensiveness during these discussions?

Thank you for your insights and guidance.

Best regards,

emcaulay's picture
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Hi boblewis,

I know exactlty how you feel, and I can recommend this website and the podcasts for a set of behaviors and structures that can support you as a manager. It's really a framework for how to practice management effectively. 

In your question, you don't seem to be familiar with the Manager Tools tools, so I think you may have found this website the way I did several years ago, "oh help, I need to do something that has the potential to go very badly, and I think I might need some in-depth preparation to get through it." 

I do think this website and the many information sources it provides is a great resource for you. 

So, I think you need to start with evaluating the strength of your relationship with all your directs. Do you meet with them individually, weekly? Do you know who they live with (family members and/or pets) and the names of those people and pets? That's quick test for how well you know someone. It's a sign of how much you've listened to them over time. If you have that part strong, then you may be able to introduce at a staff meeting the idea of the feedback model. 

At Manager Tools, they talk about "models" for 4 core activities that they call the "trinity." It's one-on-ones, feedback, coaching, and delegation. I think they say trinity because you do the first 3 so that you have the foundation to do the final model. (But I may have that a bit off -- I'm still learning!) The model is discussed in their podcasts. See Manager Tools Basics: The Trinity: Feedback. 

You will find that feedback here is very small conversations that avoid resistance from the direct report. 

However, you may have to address something that is not small, which may be the case since you reference "performance issues" which is usually on a bigger scale. In that case, you may be caught in what feels like an urgent situation and you don't have the time to roll out a new approach to providing feedback (positive and negative) to all your people. Question yourself about that, is this really urgent? Does these performance issues need immediate attention, or can I work on practicing delivering performance evaluation in small interactions and achieve the changes I want gradually?

Ideally, you can go slowly knowing that you have a future state in mind that you are working toward. 

If you can't, then the first thing you need is a venue for performance conversations -- that needs to be a regular one-on-one, I think. If you don't have weekly one-on-ones that are not project status meetings with each of your direct reports, then get that pattern in place now. And then use that venue to start delivering performance feedback. And if a direct is resistant the first time you provide feedback, let it go. They aren't ready to hear it. Try again. And if they can't hear it, try at the third meeting, and if they push back again, point out that they are resisting performance feedback and that that can't continue. 

I think a really helpful mindset that I learned from Manager Tools is that feedback isn't interested in why someone did something. They did it because they thought it was the right thing to do at the time. They did it for a good reason. And the impact or outcome was still something you as the manager have the ability to observe and evaluate. You want them to do something differently next time. So that's why you don't care about why -- the intention can even stay the same as long as the expression of the good intention takes a more effective form. 

I am going to reference something from Stephen Covey here, but I don't know if it is a quotation or not: "With people, fast is slow and slow is fast." What that means is, efficiency isn't what you're after when you relate with people, because the people are still there tomorrow and the next day and the next day. You have to sustain and grow the relationship even when you want change. 

I hope that's helpful as food for thought and some ways to investigate more information that could fit your situation.