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feedback is ignored, jealousy and
ill will festers among employees,
and managers fear getting sued, for
instance. What can HR leaders do
to help employees and managers
feel more comfortable with speaking
freely and openly on the job?
Another study we conducted has
uncovered a big problem. We asked
people if they knew if their performance
was where it should be. Only 29 percent
of the employees we surveyed said they
always know [the answer]. Another 14
percent said they frequently know, and
the rest said either “rarely,” “never” or
It’s going to be difficult to have
candid conversations about anything if
people don’t know their expectations
[on the job]. There has to be
transparency. So, one of the first things
that an HR leader can do to tackle this
problem is to make expectations clear
so that everybody knows the story
when it comes to their performance.
HR can also focus on sharing the
company’s reality with employees.
When we do surveys of organizations,
one of the questions we’ll often ask
is, “Do your employees feel that
the organization openly shares the
challenges facing it?”
A lot of companies don’t do a good
job of that, and the reality is that it starts
at the top. If a company sees that leaders
don’t talk about the tough stuff, or that
they blame others when they do talk
about it, then you have a problem.
Say, for example, that a CEO sends
a letter to employees saying that the
company would be doing better if not for
the current economy ... . When leaders do
that, they actually start to tell employees
that assigning blame is OK; that not being
honest about reality is OK and that you
should always try to spin the truth.
Managers, including those in
HR, must sometimes be the
ones to share a hard truth with
an employee. You describe
“perspective taking” as a powerful
way to get people “plugged in and
listening” when you have difficult
news to share with them. What
exactly is perspective taking, and
how would a manager utilize this
technique to make a difficult
conversation a bit easier and more
fruitful for all parties?
It begins with just acknowledging
that the other person might not see the
world the same way that you do.
managers start a
making a speech.
Instead, pause for
a minute and say
to the employee,
“Could you share
with me?” Before launching into a
diatribe, a manager can turn this into
more of an actual discussion.
One of the big “a-ha moments” for
some managers is when they realize it’s
unlikely that they’re going to lecture
someone into great performance. The
only way you’re going to do it is to
engage employees conversationally.
For example, a manager having a
tough conversation with a team member
can ask the employee to state his or her
position, and then state it back to them.
A manager can say something along
the lines of, “OK, I just want to make
sure I have the facts right.” We call it
structured listening. It tends to calm
people down and also reveals where
possible logical flaws lie; simply by
illuminating the problem.
HR, by the way, has a great set of
skills to model this behavior for other
people in the organization, frankly.
Generally, HR is very good at getting
into question mode as opposed to
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