Tuesday, March 12, 2013

How Do You Handle Tough Conversations?

For those of us who aspire to be managers, we long for the glory days when projects are successfully completed. It is our way to demonstrate that we can produce results through others. At the same time, at some point, every manager will face the situation that may be uncomfortable. It can happen when our best employees don’t play well together. Or one of our direct reports is highly capable, however, unreliable.

On the surface, it seems the answer is to just fire people. Even that can become a tough conversation when you know your decision will significantly impact someone’s life.

When we explore why some people become managers, the complexity increases. Most people become managers because
they are good problem solvers. And problem solvers are likeable people. For the most part, managers, enjoy the feeling of being liked. Except, some problems are the result of human relations.

Some new managers find the challenge of human relations most difficult. What do you do if your assistant to the team you lead is very good and unreliable? Imagine if she is a single mother who has to come in late sometimes or miss days because her child is often sick. The team depends on the role she plays. Without her, deadlines can be missed. Or people have to do her work. If you keep her, you may burn out the team. Or you could lose the client because the team is unable cover for her and produce quality work on time. What should you do?

While there are many ways to handle this scenario, one is the following. Speak with her one on one. The conversation would sound something like this. You have become a critical part of this team, your work is exceptional and everyone likes working with you. And I am sure you understand what happens when you have to leave early, arrive late or absent. If you were not as good as you are, you and I would be having a very different conversation. So I am sure you can appreciate the dilemma.

If things stay the way they are, the team will burn out from doing your job and theirs. With that scenario, there is a chance of losing the team. In a worst case, we lose the client. If that happens, we are all out of a job and this conversation is irrelevant.

Therefore, I hope you understand that something has to change immediately. From what I have seen, your situation with your son, while unfortunate, can no longer affect the team. I don’t want to lose you. Nor do I want to lose the team or client. My suggestion is you stay on part-time.  If you choose that, you will have to make arrangements with the team for when you can consistently be available. 

If that situation is unacceptable for you, I am open to your suggestions. Or we can find you a position in another part of the company. At the same time, I have to hire someone who can consistently be here full-time. The possibility of you working full-time from home is inappropriate. The workload and close communication requires the person in your position to be here. If you are amenable to part-time, you will have flexibility to do some work from home. However, we will need you on the premises most of the time.

I will need you to let me know your decision by tomorrow at the end of the day.   

While there are some managers who would aggressively push this person out the door, there is more to consider than proving you are a tough manager. In business, you are a more valuable manager when you can negotiate and demonstrate your ability to make things work. Even though the assistant may not be happy with the suggestion, it is the manger’s job to make choices that are in the best interest of all stakeholders.

What do you think? I’m open to ideas. Or if you want to write me about a specific topic, let me know. 

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