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 opportunities that are creating new concerns for your team. What should you do and when are you going to find 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Amy Alvarez, SHRM-CP, joined IDOC in February 2018 as Human Resources Consultant. Amy has experience in human resources in healthcare and retail, management in big box and specialty retail stores and physician recruitment. Through these roles and training, Amy is well-versed in recruitment and hiring strategies for “hard to fill” roles, dealing with low productivity, helping encourage employee engagement, on-boarding, training, day-to-day management in a retail setting, creating growth in retail business, employee relations, and so much more. For questions or comments about this article, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.