So you have tried all the subtle ways to get a subordinate to start doing something that needs to be done to make things better in your business, or stop doing something that is causing problems. What do you do now? Maybe it’s time to turn up the intensity a bit. Maybe it’s time for the “serious consequences” conversation.
First, identify the specific behavior change that is desired. If possible, stick with one topic per serious conversation. Keep thinking about the conversation until you are ready to articulate the old and/or new behavior very clearly. For example, “I want you to get more organized and focus on two issues: the physical appearance of your workspace and your follow-up reputation.” By the way, everyone in every organization has one of three follow-up reputations: sometimes, always or never. You might specifically state that you want them to upgrade their sometimes or never reputation to an always reputation.
Next, think about what you are willing to do to help the person make the change. Try to be supportive and stay on their side of things during the conversation rather than making it a “me versus you” conversation. For example, let’s say the subordinate is totally disorganized and their lack of organizing skills causes significant problems for your business. Maybe the problem is causing you to lose clients or experience high cost overruns on projects. It is one thing as a leader to say, “You had better get your act together or else!” It is another thing entirely to say, “I want you to get more organized and I am willing to help you learn to do so (or bring in someone to help you).”
Next state very clearly, “The consequences of you not making this change are serious.” Say this without any form of intimidating voice tone or body language. Just state it firmly and seriously.
Of course, if you are going to make this statement, you will need to be able to clearly articulate the consequences. In my case, I typically viewed these disciplinary discussions as a multi-stage process. Stage one was all the informal discussions leading up to the serious consequences meeting. Stage two was the serious consequences discussion. Stage three was getting the human resources folks involved and formal documentation of the problem (this, in effect, was the next consequence of failure to respond after the serious consequences discussion). You may or may not include additional stages that would lead up to the ultimate stage – termination.
These are not fun conversations. For this reason, these conversations are often avoided until it is too late to save an otherwise good employee. The key to success is remaining clear, caring and firm.
I hope you do not have to have too many of these conversations. However, if you do, it is better to structure them in a way that will help the subordinate maximize his or her chances of successfully changing their behavior. The consequences of not doing this can be serious.
Chris Crouch is CEO of DME Training and Consulting and author of several books on improving productivity. Contact him through www.dmetraining.com.