Managing Performance / Setting Goals

A Secret No One Tells New Managers

Wally Bock asked:

The Merriam-Webster dictionary lists two meanings for “confrontation.” There are “a face-to-face meeting” and “the clashing of forces or ideas.” Both are part of being a boss, but hardly anyone tells that to a new manager in advance.

You could say that managing others is the art of “controlled confrontation.” Doing it well is essential to succeeding as a boss.

Part of your job as a manager is accomplishing the mission assigned to your team. Sometimes that means asking your people to do things they’d rather not do. Sometimes it means getting them to stop doing things that affect team performance.

You do most of that face-to-face. You need to communicate how things should be done and why it matters. Your subordinates may have different ideas. That’s where confrontation happens.

Part of your job as a manager is to care for your people. That means helping them succeed which often involves getting them to do things differently. Confrontation can happen there as well.

The bottom line is that being a manager requires you to get people to alter their behavior and performance. Since nobody likes to be told that what they’re doing is wrong, confrontation will be an inevitable part of your job. But it can’t be just any confrontation. In order to be effective, confrontation needs to be controlled.

Control confrontation by doing lots of it. The key is to help your people make lots of small course corrections.

Lots of small corrections make confrontation easier. You won’t be asking your people to make huge changes. You won’t be surprising them by telling them that what they’ve been doing for weeks or months is wrong.

Lots of small course corrections increase your odds of success. That’s because the easier you make it for folks to do the right thing, the more likely they are to do it.

In most cases you’ll be able to limit your confrontations to a single issue. The exception is the person who either can’t or won’t change. They usually wind up requiring confrontations on a range of issues on the way to either reform or career redirection.

You’re also more likely to succeed if you follow a few rules and a simple script for your confrontations. Here’s they are.

When you talk with someone about changing behavior, it’s usually best to do it privately. No one likes to be embarrassed by being corrected in front of their co-workers.

Adapt your behavior to your subordinate. Some people are set at ease with small-talk. Other people want you to get right to the subject of your meeting. Some of your subordinates will move quickly and let you know on the spot how they react to your correction. Others will do better if they take some time to reflect. Choose your behavior to increase the odds of good outcomes.

Start with the facts. Just the facts. Drain away the adjectives and describe the behavior or performance in neutral, Joe-Friday-like, phrases. Do this quickly, in a few seconds.

Once you’ve gotten the facts out, don’t stop. Move right on to outlining the impact of the performance or behavior that you want to change. You don’t want your subordinate to talk until you’ve done that.

Describe the impact in logical and emotional terms. Logical is something like: “When you come in late, we have to have someone else cover the phones. That’s means their work isn’t getting done.”

Emotional is different. It’s how you or someone else feels about the behavior or performance. Example: “When I have to re-arrange assignments at the last minute, I get angry.”

Once you’re done with the facts and the impact, stop. Be quiet. Don’t say anything more. It’s your subordinate’s turn to talk. Wait for him or her to respond.

Handle your confrontations this way and the next thing that happens most of the time is that you’ll be discussing issues with your subordinate. Those issues might be the accuracy of your facts or reasons why behavior or performance don’t match expectations or a description of exceptional circumstances you weren’t aware of or any number of other things, including how and when change will happen.

Don’t leave the session without agreeing on what will change and when. Be clear about how it will be measured. And remember that, because you’re the boss, you may have to dictate those terms if agreement proves impossible.

Controlled confrontation is a key part of being a manager. Following the advice outlined here will improve your odds of successful controlled confrontation.

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