If you are or have been responsible for managing people, you have been there. An employee whom you like and has done great work in the past is struggling in their role. Maybe they are more combative than usual with their peers or aren’t getting their work done effectively. Perhaps you have started noticing new concerns that have effects on the entire team. What should you do? Do you even have the time?
Conflict avoidance is an opportunity for me. I have worked hard to improve during my career but sometimes, I still fall back into it. Conflict avoidance is as it sounds—an attempt to avoid conflict by putting off discussions, changing the subject, sugarcoating the message, worrying more about motivation or reaction than addressing the concern, etc. Does this sound familiar? Maybe not every day, but you don’t have to BE conflict averse to practice conflict avoidance. I think it happens more often than we think. With all the different ways you could spend your time in a day, having an uncomfortable conversation that may not make a difference doesn’t always feel like time well spent.
Conflict avoidance does not have any positive long-term effects so, although it feels safe, nice and kind at this moment, it will only add to the problem. On my path to improvement, I picked up a few important tips that can be applied to the situation above:
- Check in with employees often, even when there are no underlying issues:Clarity about expectations and performance are an important part of every leader’s responsibilities. Setting up your employees for success in their role will lead to success throughout the practice. Checking in with employees for feedback (what the employee does well, where the employee can improve, strengths and opportunities for the practice from the employee) often, ideally quarterly, allows you to get ahead of issues. The frequent conversations also help you practice the skills of coaching. It is a muscle – if you don’t work it, it will not grow.
- Call out issues as soon as you see them:If 72 hours passes and an incident is not addressed, the effectiveness of that conversation is greatly diminished. When someone acts in a way that is not reflective of your business or values, it should be called out as soon as possible.
- If you are unable to find the time in your day to manage staff performance, hire someone who can: Time during your day is hard to find. Business expenses, payroll, chair time, inventory, marketing, taxes, the list goes on and on of ways you could be spending your time in your business. Managing people can be the biggest time expense of them all! If you are finding that you are unable to manage your team because of time or this is not a skill you are ready to use, hire an office manager to help. To be clear, I am not recommending hiring someone and cleaning your hands of all managing. You still need to be present in your practice as a leader but you can hire someone who can manage the day to day performance expectations to ensure things don’t slip through the cracks.
- Make the difficult calls quickly instead of waiting to see if things will improve:It is not likely that you know someone who finds joy in terminating employees. And, after all, we spend more time at work than we do with our families. The closeness and feeling of obligation that develops is real and should be respected. However, your obligation is to your entire staff, not an individual. Sometimes, you will think that someone is no longer a good fit for your business. That is a difficult decision to make which is why we often wait until the problem is so bad, we are pulling out our hair. I would stress that waiting is the biggest mistake one can make as a leader.
- It isn’t “just business”:“It’s just business” is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot when the topic of staffing decisions come up. Although true, you do have a business to run. The phrase might be better if changed to be “It’s just total team health and productivity”. I don’t believe most would terminate an employee as soon as they can’t meet a goal or deadline. That would be “just business”. “Just total team health and productivity” is the effort you put into your staff through training, feedback and coaching. We must take advantage of our staff’s skills to continue to improve the practice.
Performance management is difficult but a lot of it gets easier with practice. The more involved and in tune you are with your staff, the more fluid these conversations and decisions will feel. Remember, conflict avoidance does not have any positive long-term outcomes. Don’t let it hold you and your business back.