Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Blog Schedule Announcement

Starting next week, the blog will be moving to a once-per-week posting schedule. I've enjoyed writing and will continue to enjoy it. I just have some other life obligations that are encouraging me to redirect some of my time. Please join me every Monday for new posts.


Better-boss.com celebrated its 1-year anniversary just yesterday. In that time, I've written over 100 articles on effective management practices. I want to let everyone know, I appreciate your readership. The point of the blog is to give useful information to help people improve their management skills. I know that it is working when I see that people are reading. A special thank you to those who like the blog enough to recommend it to others. Those recommendations are the primary way that others find this blog. Please keep recommending it if you enjoy the content. 

We will be back with our first post of 2022 on Monday. Happy new year!

Monday, December 27, 2021

Onboarding Meeting Scripts Bonus: Managerial Rules

Actions to take: If your new employee's role involves management, add an extra onboarding meeting. In this meeting, discuss managerial principles. Prepare for this meeting in the same way you did for the previous four, with one addition: if your new employee is a veteran of management, make this meeting less a speech and more a dialogue.


For the past 4 posts (not including the week off), I have given you the exact scripts I use of all new employees' onboarding meetings. To cap off our discussion of onboarding, we'll finish with one for when your new employee is themself a manager. That is, in their new role at your organization, they will be supervising people, and you will be supervising them.


Remember the purpose of these talks. You are setting expectations for your new employee to help them understand how best to operate as your employee. Whether or not they do it explicitly, the boss sets the tone for the relationship with their employees. That's the nature of authority. Average bosses do it tacitly. As often as not, they are unaware of the things that are doing to steer the nature of that relationship. By conducting these onboarding meetings, we are being intentional about setting the tone, being intentional about communicating our expectations for how good and excellent employees operate.

However important that is for frontline employees, it is doubly important for managers. Frontline employees can mess up their work. Bosses can mess up an entire department's work. Ironically, managers typically get even less direction from their bosses than frontline employees do. Become part of the solution by conducting one of these onboarding meeting talks specifically about management tasks. 

Unlike the previous four onboarding meetings, this one may or may not be a "speech" to your direct. How you approach the topic of managerial best practice is a spectrum that depends on the experience of your new employee. If your new employee is brand new to management, then this last meeting should be a speech very much in the vein of the previous four meetings. If, however, your new employee is a veteran of management with as many or more years of experience as you, make it a discussion where you trade thoughts on effective management. For those tenured managers, encourage back-and-forth in the meeting. Keep in mind that, assuming you did well during the hiring process, you've got an excellent manager. They likely have just as many useful opinions as you do.


That said, you still need to go in with a plan. Regardless of whether your new employee has 0 years of management experience or 20, they are still your new employee, and they need to know your expectations for the managers under you. I will not be providing a specific script in this post. Long-time readers will already know the topics I cover: my personal Managerial Rules. These were the first 4 things I wrote about on the blog:

  1. Assume Positive Intent: Take extra time pushing yourself to imagine that, whatever the situation was, your employee intended to do good. Stop worrying about intent, ever. Remove it from your calculus about how to handle situations. You will find freedom in simply focusing on preventing further issues in the future rather than investigating why things happened in the past.
  2. I’m Not Special: Beware the trap of thinking yourself superior to your employees. It manifests itself in more ways than you think. Stop yourself from shutting down your employees because "you know better." 
  3. The Things I Want from My Boss are the Things My Employees Want from Me: Recognize that we do not intuitively follow the golden rule. Set aside time to engage in thought experiments about how you would feel if your boss did to you things that you do to your employees. Be critical and honest in those reflections. When you discover yourself doing something to your employees that you wouldn't want done to you, make meaningful changes to your managerial behaviors.
  4. You Never Have to be Tough: The higher you go in an organization, the less you are allowed to express negative emotions. It is a falsehood that authority = toughness. In fact, just the opposite is true. Take meaningful steps to remove your emotional state from the equation during interactions with directs. If they are thinking about your negative emotions, you have failed.

During the actual meeting, I spend more words on each of these than I have here, but less I did in the actual posts about each topic. 


To close, I'll give the same caveat I've given several other times when covering onboarding meetings. The things I choose to discuss with my new employees are specific to my management. They are what matters to me as a manager, and therefore, they are useful things for the people under me to look out for as my employees. The things you discuss should be the things that are most valuable and important to you. While I think my list of topics is pretty good, I encourage you not to copy this wholesale. Reflect on what matters to you, and make sure those topics are central to your onboarding meetings with your directs.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Holiday Week Off

Actions to take: Draw clear lines between work and non-work, both in your behaviors and in how you spend your mental energy. Ensure that you are prioritizing your non-work life over your work life. 


I will be taking the week off for the holiday. I encourage you to do the same if your situation allows it! We will be back with more content on the 27th. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Onboarding Meeting Scripts #4: Disagreeing and Following Directives

Actions to take: Follow the advice from past onboarding posts. In particular, spend time during weekly check-in meetings describing expectations for new employees who work under you. Read these scripts to help you develop those thoughts. Do not copy these scripts verbatim. Rather, use them as inspiration to develop scripts that are unique to your own management style and priorities.

Note: The following introduction will appear at the beginning of all four Onboarding Meeting Script posts.


Back in April of this year, I wrote two posts about the boss's job when it comes to onboarding a new employee (Onboarding New Employees - Part 1 and Onboarding New Employees - Part 2). These quickly became some of the most viewed pages on better-boss.com. That is no doubt in part due to the hour-long podcast episode I had with ELGL Director Kirsten Wyatt on the subject. 

As part of a weekly onboarding check-in meeting, I encourage managers to spend time laying out big-picture expectations for their employees as explicitly as possible. Multiple times in my career, I have received positive, unsolicited feedback that I must keep doing this part of the onboarding check-in. I have also never met another manager who does it.  

In the linked materials above, I talk about this step in some detail. I don't think people can picture it very well without having seen it themselves. This short series is an attempt to rectify that. These scripts are exactly what I use when I deliver expectations "speeches" to my new employees during our check-in meetings. Please keep a few things in mind:

  • These are scripts. The nuance of tone, body language, eye contact, and minor improvisation depending on the employee's reactions are not conveyed here.
  • These are intended as example, not as a finished product for the reader. They are written to describe my managerial priorities and expectations. To have real meaning, your scripts need to be your own. Take inspiration from these, but I encourage you not to copy them verbatim.
  • These are written assuming that the new employee is a manager themselves. Most of the content stays the same (excepting script #4), but not all. Not only should you write scripts to match your management, you should tweak them to match the new employee's position.


Onboarding Script #4: Disagreeing and Following Directives

When you ask me for my thoughts, or when I give them without you asking, or when we talk about how to do a thing, or when I give you feedback, these are my beliefs about best practices. I am not special, I am not all-knowing. Every couple of years I look back and realize how stupid I was. That said, I am teaching you to the best of my ability how to interact with me as my direct report and how I think you should interact with others. There may be things we fundamentally disagree on when it comes to how to conduct yourself.

To use the “ask questions” talk from last week as an example, a person may believe that managers cannot be respected if they show too much ignorance. That’s fine. It’s not really my job to manage an employee’s beliefs. However, it is my job to manage behaviors. I believe the correct behavior is to ask questions early and often, so that is my instruction to the managers under me.

When we disagree, I would like you to try to change my mind. I enjoy and encourage those conversations. It helps me question my own assumptions and examine the reasons behind my beliefs. Those conversations sometimes make me change my mind, but even when they don’t, they are valuable for helping me understand your perspective. If you do initiate such a conversation, I expect you to come to that discussion open to the possibility that I will change your mind. While that discussion is ongoing, I expect you to conform to my instructions. If we close the topic and my mind is unchanged, I expect you to conform to my instructions.

 

Let me explain what I mean by “conform to my instructions”. After a final decision is made, I expect you to act as if the final decision is what you would have decided if you yourself had been the one to make the decision. A year from now, if your direct reports were to reflect on all your communication, they should not be able to pick out the decisions you still disagreed with at the time of implementation. Can you picture what that looks like? This may sound like an inappropriately high bar to clear. I admit that this is an ideal that I don’t always reach myself. Many managers would balk at the idea that I am asking you to so thoroughly “tow the company line.”

Let me show you why this is the expectation. Imagine for a moment that your team was deciding between choice A and choice B about a workflow, and it was evenly split. You decide to go with choice A. Would you be okay if the folks who wanted choice B decided skate by with half-effort during the implementation of choice A? Or do you expect them to put their full effort into choice A?

Your job is communicating. If you put anything less than your full effort into that communication, you are committing the managerial version of skating by. You wouldn’t put up with it from your people, and I won’t put up with it from you. Is that convincing/do you have thoughts on that?

There’s another reason why you need to act as if you are in 100% agreement, even if you are not internally: You ARE the company to your direct reports. People talk about “the company” like it is this amorphous outside entity that pushed dictates down from on-high. It’s just us. Both in a legal sense and in a “that’s really how they view you” sense, you are the company for your direct reports. If you say or imply “they” made this decision but “I” don’t agree, it is as though the company has multiple personality disorder. You might as well say “I made this decision, but I don’t agree”. It is nonsense. By the way, implying to your employees that you disagree with a finalized decision also makes you look ineffective—they will see you as powerless to influence decisions in a meaningful way.

Quick recap on this section: after the decision is final, the unchosen alternative vanishes. If it is a decision you initially disagreed with, you enact and communicate the decision with exactly the same effort and sincerity as you would if were in full support from the outset. No one should be able to tell the difference. This goes for all company directives, from me or from above me.

 

Let me tie these two ideas together, disagreeing with a decision and supporting the decision once it is final. You must disagree, fully and completely and with all of your energy, in order to support the decision. If you really push, ask me those hard questions, I’ll get the chance to answer. I’ll be able to forward your concerns up the chain if I can’t answer. You’ll know for certain that somebody at least thought about your worries, and you’ll have some sort of response from me. Then, when your people push back (and they’ll have the same concerns you do), you’ll be able to say “I know what you mean. I had the same thoughts. Here’s how Ben helped me see that this is the right decision” or whatever. The point is, you’ll be more comfortable sincerely supporting decision. Does that make sense?

A couple more reasons why you need to disagree before the decision is final: The first idea during decision-making is rarely the best idea. Some form of disagreement has to happen to get past the first idea. I personally need people to disagree with me. I know what I sound like. I sound like a guy who thinks he knows everything. When you hear that guy talk, you assume there’s no convincing him, so why waste your breath. We need to work together to make sure I’m not that guy.

 

There will come a time when I’m not your manager any longer, at which point you’re free to conduct yourself however you like. I hope and truly believe that my management style will teach you successful behaviors that you can agree with. But if you do disagree, remember:

  1. You are expected to conform to my instructions after a decision is final
  2. I welcome attempts to change my mind before the decision is final
  3. If all else fails, this is a temporary problem that will disappear when we stop working together


Monday, December 13, 2021

Onboarding Meeting Scripts #3: Balance Your Workload

Actions to take: Follow the advice from past onboarding posts. In particular, spend time during weekly check-in meetings describing expectations for new employees who work under you. Read these scripts to help you develop those thoughts. Do not copy these scripts verbatim. Rather, use them as inspiration to develop scripts that are unique to your own management style and priorities.

Note: The following introduction will appear at the beginning of all four Onboarding Meeting Script posts.


Back in April of this year, I wrote two posts about the boss's job when it comes to onboarding a new employee (Onboarding New Employees - Part 1 and Onboarding New Employees - Part 2). These quickly became some of the most viewed pages on better-boss.com. That is no doubt in part due to the hour-long podcast episode I had with ELGL Director Kirsten Wyatt on the subject. 

As part of a weekly onboarding check-in meeting, I encourage managers to spend time laying out big-picture expectations for their employees as explicitly as possible. Multiple times in my career, I have received positive, unsolicited feedback that I must keep doing this part of the onboarding check-in. I have also never met another manager who does it.  

In the linked materials above, I talk about this step in some detail. I don't think people can picture it very well without having seen it themselves. This short series is an attempt to rectify that. These scripts are exactly what I use when I deliver expectations "speeches" to my new employees during our check-in meetings. Please keep a few things in mind:

  • These are scripts. The nuance of tone, body language, eye contact, and minor improvisation depending on the employee's reactions are not conveyed here.
  • These are intended as example, not as a finished product for the reader. They are written to describe my managerial priorities and expectations. To have real meaning, your scripts need to be your own. Take inspiration from these, but I encourage you not to copy them verbatim.
  • These are written assuming that the new employee is a manager themselves. Most of the content stays the same (excepting script #4), but not all. Not only should you write scripts to match your management, you should tweak them to match the new employee's position.

Onboarding Script #3: Balance Your Workload

As part of your job, you are expected to understand all of the responsibilities set out for you and ensure that all of your obligations are met. This is challenging in every position. [Describe reasons specific to their job and refer to primary/urgent duties of their job]. It can be easy to focus on the primary duties and lose track of other work.

It is important to recognize that primary tasks are not your only tasks. There is other work that is not urgent, but still important. Those tasks must be done, and must be done well. An obvious example is training and professional development. It can be easy to think of that as “just something to be done” and not part of the “real” work. The most effective employees carve out time to not only do training, but actively engage in it. They take the time to think about how the information applies to their particular work. [For higher-level employees: At your level, there is significant expectation that you are not only doing training assigned, but also finding training and professional development opportunities on your own. One part of your job is to make yourself better at your job.]

There is also work related to big picture thinking and longer-term planning, even in the most basic jobs. Even a shelver at a library has some amount of this work, like helping design handbooks for new shelving employees or thinking about changes to processes that would make us more efficient. Your job [describe aspects of job that involve big picture thinking & long-term planning]. A lot of this work takes place in our brains. I call this hidden work, and it’s hard to do while looking busy. That makes it even harder to spend meaningful time on it, because you don’t want to look like you’re doing nothing. What I’m saying is, do this work when it needs to be done.

Finally, you are part of a team, and there is the work of communication. There is a management saying: “Work that isn’t communicated isn’t finished.” When problems occur, you are part of the group that reports them or helps solve them. There are always places to improve our processes—you are part of the group that can help develop and implement those new methods. You are part of our team, and therefore you need to keep yourself abreast of things going on in the library by checking your email, being attentive in meetings, talking with your coworkers, and asking questions. You must communicate your work to me. If you notice problems, it is part of your work to report those problems. If you have personal successes, it is part of your work to report those successes.

Here is my perspective: This is all your work. It all needs to be done, and it all needs to be done well. Your primary duties, such as [reference primary duties mentioned at beginning], “primary” is the wrong word. These duties are urgent. They need to be done or problems will arise very quickly. The other duties are less urgent. If you push them to the side, it isn’t obvious or problematic right away. But it is a problem. It will become obvious eventually. Failing to do those non-urgent tasks fully and completely is failing to do part of your job.

For that reason, you must balance your workload. You must learn to decide when to do which work. You must set aside time to complete work that is not staring you in the face every day. If you are struggling to do some task, or falling behind in your goals, or having any issue with your workload, it is your job to let me know so that I can help. We have options, but the issue must be communicated in order to be solved. It is my expectation and assumption that you are successfully balancing your workload or notifying me if you cannot.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Onboarding Meeting Scripts #2: Ask Questions

Actions to take: Follow the advice from past onboarding posts. In particular, spend time during weekly check-in meetings describing expectations for new employees who work under you. Read these scripts to help you develop those thoughts. Do not copy these scripts verbatim. Rather, use them as inspiration to develop scripts that are unique to your own management style and priorities.

Note: The following introduction will appear at the beginning of all four Onboarding Meeting Script posts.


Back in April of this year, I wrote two posts about the boss's job when it comes to onboarding a new employee (Onboarding New Employees - Part 1 and Onboarding New Employees - Part 2). These quickly became some of the most viewed pages on better-boss.com. That is no doubt in part due to the hour-long podcast episode I had with ELGL Director Kirsten Wyatt on the subject. 

As part of a weekly onboarding check-in meeting, I encourage managers to spend time laying out big-picture expectations for their employees as explicitly as possible. Multiple times in my career, I have received positive, unsolicited feedback that I must keep doing this part of the onboarding check-in. I have also never met another manager who does it.  

In the linked materials above, I talk about this step in some detail. I don't think people can picture it very well without having seen it themselves. This short series is an attempt to rectify that. These scripts are exactly what I use when I deliver expectations "speeches" to my new employees during our check-in meetings. Please keep a few things in mind:

  • These are scripts. The nuance of tone, body language, eye contact, and minor improvisation depending on the employee's reactions are not conveyed here.
  • These are intended as example, not as a finished product for the reader. They are written to describe my managerial priorities and expectations. To have real meaning, your scripts need to be your own. Take inspiration from these, but I encourage you not to copy them verbatim.
  • These are written assuming that the new employee is a manager themselves. Most of the content stays the same (excepting script #4), but not all. Not only should you write scripts to match your management, you should tweak them to match the new employee's position.


Onboarding Script #2: Ask Questions

Please ask questions about anything you don’t understand. Nothing is off limits. You will never be penalized for asking about something you don’t know. You may very well be penalized for not knowing that information later on.

It is sometimes nerve-wracking to ask because you think you should already know the answer. When I assign you a task, it can feel like there is an unstated assumption: “You should know how to do this.” That is not true. Remember, I have can't see inside your brain. Only you have a full understanding of what you have and haven’t been trained to do.  

I’ve found that the feeling “I should already know this, but I don’t” is worst in months 2-6. You’re new enough not to know things, but you have been around long enough that the “onboarding phase” is over. You must push through that feeling and just ask.  

I am not talking about just asking questions to me. I expect you to ask questions of your coworkers as well. Again, this can feel a little awkward. People will forget that you are new a lot faster than you forget. In a few months, they might be surprised that you don’t know a thing. Do not take offense. Do not take this to mean you shouldn’t have asked. The only alternative is to pretend like you do know. Trying to appear as though you know more than you do is a short-term and very foolish strategy. Avoid it by being honest with your ignorance and asking questions. 

When you ask questions, you are essentially assigning work to someone. But that doesn’t mean don’t do it. It just means be aware of what you are doing. It is your job to assign this work, especially when you are new, especially to me. As your supervisor, it is my job to do this work. I would rather answer 1,000 of your questions than have you hide even one from me because you think I’m “too busy.”  

When you do, be respectful of other people’s time. Think about the best way to ask the question. Think about how long the answer is likely to be. For example, you might have a big task you haven't learned yet. It would likely be best to ask if someone has 30 minutes later in the week rather than asking the question in the moment. Consider if there are ways for you to minimize the work of the answerer.  

Ask questions. Ask all the questions you have. Spend time thinking about and coming up with more questions. It is expected of you to you know everything you need to know to do your job. Not immediately, but eventually. If answers you receive do not fully satisfy your question/curiosity, make a note and circle back to that question at a later date.   

That's what I have to say about asking questions. What are your thoughts on this set of expectations?

Monday, December 6, 2021

Onboarding Meeting Scripts #1: Honesty, Respect, and Results

Actions to take: Follow the advice from past onboarding posts. In particular, spend time during weekly check-in meetings describing expectations for new employees who work under you. Read these scripts to help you develop those thoughts. Do not copy these scripts verbatim. Rather, use them as inspiration to develop scripts that are unique to your own management style and priorities.

Note: The following introduction will appear at the beginning of all four Onboarding Meeting Script posts.


Back in April of this year, I wrote two posts about the boss's job when it comes to onboarding a new employee (Onboarding New Employees - Part 1 and Onboarding New Employees - Part 2). These quickly became some of the most viewed pages on better-boss.com. That is no doubt in part due to the hour-long podcast episode I had with ELGL Director Kirsten Wyatt on the subject. 

As part of a weekly onboarding check-in meeting, I encourage managers to spend time laying out big-picture expectations for their employees as explicitly as possible. Multiple times in my career, I have received positive, unsolicited feedback that I must keep doing this part of the onboarding check-in. I have also never met another manager who does it.  

In the linked materials above, I talk about this step in some detail. I don't think people can picture it very well without having seen it themselves. This short series is an attempt to rectify that. These scripts are exactly what I use when I deliver expectations "speeches" to my new employees during our check-in meetings. Please keep a few things in mind:

  • These are scripts. The nuance of tone, body language, eye contact, and minor improvisation depending on the employee's reactions are not conveyed here.
  • These are intended as example, not as a finished product for the reader. They are written to describe my managerial priorities and expectations. To have real meaning, your scripts need to be your own. Take inspiration from these, but I encourage you not to copy them verbatim.
  • These are written assuming that the new employee is a manager themselves. Most of the content stays the same (excepting script #4), but not all. Not only should you write scripts to match your management, you should tweak them to match the new employee's position.


Onboarding Script #1: Honesty, Respect, and Results

This is the most important stuff. We don’t talk about this stuff openly and directly because it tends to feel implied, but that doesn’t reduce its importance. We should probably talk about it more. No report or assignment I give you will ever be more important than what I’m about to say.

Honesty: 

Honesty is the foundation of good work. We tell each other the truth. There is never a time where not telling me the truth is okay. 

Based on everything I’ve heard about your work, I believe that you are honest, and I will continue to believe that until you prove me wrong. Being dishonest may work in the short term, but it is a short-term strategy. Eventually dishonesty is found out, or at least reasonably suspected, and when that happens, work suffers. 

I will never use your honesty against you. If I ever ask you about something you’re not at liberty to share, remember that I’m only entitled to an honest answer if I am entitled to an answer. I will try not to ask you questions that put you in that position.

When I say “honesty” I do not only mean “avoidance of a lie.” There are plenty of times where someone can get away with technically telling the truth while omitting important information. That is not honesty. Honesty is telling the full truth with all relevant details to the best of your ability. Never make a statement that is intentionally misleading. If you ever know the truth and you are not saying it clearly, you are being less honest than I am asking you to be.

I am asking you to be honest even when it hurts to be honest. Even when it puts you in an uncomfortable position, or requires you to admit less-than-stellar information about yourself. I am asking you to be honest even when it requires you to admit less-than-stellar information about me. I am asking you to be honest even when we might get in trouble for it.

This holds for all of your work, not just the things you say. Truthful reporting is paramount to the success of the organization. Reporting work through rose-tinted glasses hides problems and shortcomings. It hinders your ability to improve, which hinders the organization's ability to improve. If there is information you would want if you were on the receiving end, then you cannot leave that information out and still claim that it is a full and complete report.

I expect you to be honest and show integrity all day, every day.

Respect: 

I expect you to treat others with respect. I expect you to be kind to all the people you interact with as a function of your employment here.

There is never a place for yelling, or threats, or using power with the goal of invoking fear. Speaking in anger to someone is not acceptable.

This is especially, most importantly, true for those you outrank. Power and kindness must go hand-in-hand. We will speak more on this in a future meeting, but using your authority, your power as “boss”, to get things done is rarely an effective way to get results. I expect you to be especially kind, to work especially hard at being polite, respectful, in some cases intentionally light-hearted with the people who report to you.

I expect you to be kind even when it makes things harder. There will be times when being direct and stating your unvarnished opinion will feel like you are simply being honest, when in fact, your “honesty” is coming from a place of frustration or even anger. Honesty comes first, but you cannot sacrifice respect to serve honesty. 

There are times when it is faster to be a little rude, to be a bit of a bully with your opinion to get what you want. It may work in the moment, but it will make later work harder. You cannot get results without other people. Respect and kindness are part of having relationships with other people. Bullying, speaking in anger, or even being subtly coercive with your power as boss, these things degrade the relationship, which steals your future effectiveness.

There are times when we lapse. If that happens even a little bit, no matter how justified it may feel, it is important to recognize the fault in yourself. It is important to make amends through meaningful apologies. It is important to review your behavior to improve your abilities for the future.

Kindness can include directness. When talking about feedback, I often ask people “If you were doing something that your boss didn’t like, would you want to know about it?” It is not unkind to tell someone their results are not up to standard when that is true. Your job, our jobs, are to manage the effectiveness of the people below us. Just as you cannot hide behind honesty to avoid being kind, you cannot hide behind kindness to avoid honest communication. By paying attention to your tone and your phrasing, it is possible and expected of you to provide feedback while being respectful and kind.

Finally, results will not happen without other people’s help. Whether it is the people below you, your peers, or the people above you, respect is the only way to be successful. The further you go in your career the more you will need to rely on relationships to get things done. You can’t ignore other people, or dismiss their opinions, or even be too forceful about your own opinion. People will learn that they don’t want to work with you, and when that happens, you become ineffective. Being right is less important than you think—learning that has been a bit of a journey for me, but it’s true. Knowing the right thing to do is irrelevant if you can’t get it done, and you can’t get things done without other people. 

Results: 

I expect you to achieve results.  

Through the use of honesty and respect, your job is to produce results. I will push you to continue improving. I will ask more of you as time goes on. Since you are a supervisor, I will ask more of you than one person can do. Remember that you get work done through other people. It is your job to determine what work should be done by you and what work should be done by the people below you.  

I expect you to come in every day ready to do your best work. I expect you to take care of yourself, and of course your family comes first. I believe that is an important part of being an effective employee. Those who sacrifice their health and their personal relationships become martyrs for their company, and there is no evidence that they produce any better work than those who don’t.  

I will ask for evidence of results. Let me be clear here, I am not interested in evidence that you are busy. Being busy and being effective are not the same thing. Do not be surprised when I ask you not only to do a thing, but to report on that thing. If you want to impress me, get in the habit of providing follow ups regardless of whether I ask. Again, however, this is not just about whether you did it, but what result or outcome came from it.

And that is the most important stuff. I know it’s a heavy topic to start out with. Do you have any thoughts or questions?


Wednesday, December 1, 2021

The Bridge Between Feedback & Discipline

Actions to take: Give routine feedback a minimum of 3 times about the same issue before doing anything more advanced. Next, warn your employee that they are headed toward formal discipline before you start engaging in the formal discipline process. That warning needs to include three elements: 1) a reference to the number of prior feedback conversations, 2) a reminder that they committed to improvement at each of those conversations, 3) a clear statement that failure to improve will begin the formal discipline process. As with all tough conversations, your tone must communicate kindness and understanding, not anger or harshness.


For some things you give feedback about, it's fine if the employee doesn't take your advice. You should be giving feedback about all sorts of behaviors—anything that would make an employee more effective if they continued doing it, and anything that would make them more effective if they did it differently. Maybe your employee uses too much text on their PowerPoint slides. Their message would be more effective with a cleaner, more concise slide deck. You might give them feedback a few times, but you'll probably let it go if they never take you up on making that change. 

There are other areas where your employee really does need make a change.


Let's say your employee is a bit of a bully with their opinion. They don't see it that way, and they certainly wouldn't phrase it that way, but it is the case. An instance where this came through was during a recent staff meeting. One of your more timid employees offered a suggestion. As they were wrapping up their thoughts but before they actually stopped talking, your problem employee jumped in with, "No, that will never work." It shut down the timid employee's idea, and they didn't speak again for the entire meeting. 

Unlike wordy PowerPoint slides, this is a behavior needs improvement. With each individual instance, readers of this blog already know what to do. The question we are answering today is: if your employee is failing to make improvements, what happens next? 

Your company likely has an official disciplinary tract including various levels of "warning" for the employee, culminating with termination if they fail to improve. The average manager will think, "I've tried feedback and it didn't work. Time to give them a Verbal Warning and file it with HR." 

If you do this, you are very likely to pay for it later in the process. You are jumping the gun and missing important steps. 

Before we talk about how to proceed, let's get clear on what counts as "enough" feedback. For anything that is not illegal, immoral, or clearly rule-breaking, you must give routine feedback an absolute minimum of 3 times about the same behavior. It will significantly improve your chances of long-term success if you give the same feedback 4 or 5 times before getting more serious. 


Here is the most important information in this post: The next step in the process is not formal discipline. The next step in the process is telling your employee that there is a new problem: failure to improve. This is the "bridge" from our post title. Next time your employee does the bully act with their opinion, you will give the usual advice, plus some more. It might sound like this: 

"[Give the feedback]...Can you work on it?...Thank you.

Before we wrap up, I need to say one more thing. This is now the sixth time I've given you feedback on this particular problem. Each time we talk about it, you say you will work on it. At this point, we are headed down the path toward a real problem. When someone on my team says they are going to do something, I need to know that they are following through.

You haven't followed through on your commitment to work on this. If we keep needing to have this conversation, I'm starting to worry that we're looking at the formal disciplinary track. We're not there yet, but we are getting close. When you say 'yes, I'll work on it' I need to know that you will follow through. Is that clear?"

There are three important elements that must be present in this feedback-to-discipline bridge:

  1. Reference the number of prior instances of feedback. Each individual piece of feedback is no big deal. They become big deal when there is a pattern of problematic behavior. You are establishing "this is now a pattern" when you reference prior feedback.
  2. Highlight that they have committed to improvement. Asking an employee, "can you work on it" after each piece of corrective feedback feels like a formality in the moment. Making that commitment really does assist the employee in flagging it as something to work on. Beyond that, you are essentially creating an assignment with "can you work on it." You are assigning them the task of improving the behavior. This goes a long way in demonstrating to HR that you have 1) discussed this with the employee before and 2) been clear with future expectations.
  3. Mention the formal discipline process. You absolutely must do this. The bridge between feedback and discipline is a warning call to your employee. You are making sure that the two of you are on the same page about the seriousness of the issue. If you are thinking about formal discipline and you don't mention it to the employee, you are not giving them an honest warning.

There are dire consequences to jumping into formal discipline without doing this warning bridge first. You will demolish any trust you have built up with this employee. You have previously established feedback as "just a bit of advice." Imagine your boss giving you a bit of advice on how to proceed effectively on something, then slapping you with formal discipline when you don't take their advice. Your conclusion is bound to be "it was never advice in the first place." The formal discipline process is going already set up to put employees (and bosses) on the defensive, both parties getting lawyerly in how they communicate with each other. If you bait-and-switch your employee by going straight from feedback to formal discipline, they will be that much more inclined to clam up and fight you at every corner. At that point, their goal will be to prove you wrong rather than to improve.

As always, you are must deliver the warning bridge with kindness in your voice. The example quote as written sounds firm, even harsh. It is firm language. We need to be completely clear about the consequences of failure to improve. But it does not need to be harsh. Speak with concern, and speak with compassion. 


Average bosses can't see performance problems from their employee's perspective. They live with issues until they're so fed up that they want to fire the employee yesterday. All the while, they never truly communicate that there is a problem, so the employee is totally blindsided when the Verbal Warning arrives. Better bosses not only give feedback, they take it a step further. Better bosses let employees know before they engage in formal discipline in order to give their people a fair understanding of the situation. 

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