Here are some actual quotes from real managers at some of the nation’s largest companies:
“We know that communication is a problem, but the company is not going to discuss it with the employees.”
“This project is so important we can’t let things that are more important interfere with it.”
“Doing it right is no excuse for not meeting the schedule.”
Sure, we managers say some pretty dumb things on occasion. All of us do. But being a leader means that it doesn’t happen often. With that in mind, here are three times when it really pays dividends to invest some forethought before engaging with an employee: when you praise, when you apologize, and when you reprimand.
Just as when you’re teaching a child, you shouldn’t wait to provide recognition and encouragement to your employees. Do it promptly after their praiseworthy action, be sincere, and be specific about why you’re praising them; it shows you’re paying attention to their performance.
Use their name and use the word “you” in the course of your praise. Doing so makes your interaction more personalized to the recipient, and studies have shown that our brains come to attention when we hear our name – so employees are more likely to listen and remember your positive words.
Don’t forget to leave out the “but.” If you praise a team member and in the process include a “but if you had also done X, Y or Z, it would have been even better,” you have blown it. Your goal is to encourage and appreciate the employee for a job well done; don’t undermine it by turning the praise into a criticism (because that is how it will be received). Find another time to offer a helpful recommendation.
Finally, be a leader who looks for opportunities to recognize team members for their work. As author Ken Blanchard said, “Help people reach their full potential. Catch them doing something right.”
Hey, we’re all human. We all make mistakes, and when you need to apologize for something you did that impacted others, put on your big boy pants and own it. If you can’t apologize without putting conditions on your apology or trying to weasel your way out of accepting responsibility for the error, just forget about it. You probably don’t need to remind your team members that they would be happier working in someone else’s department.
So, if you’re going to apologize, do it right. Explain how you were wrong and how you’re going to fix it. Then you’d better follow through – or else you’ll position yourself as someone who makes mistakes and who can’t keep a commitment.
A final thought on apologizing… Make sure you aren’t apologizing needlessly (or sound like you’re apologizing when it’s not necessary). For example, if you need to bring a team member’s mistake to their attention, don’t say, “Sorry, the presentation has several typos.” Using “sorry” in that manner just makes you appear weak.
When you need to apologize, do it soon, keep it complete but brief, follow through on making it right, and then move on.
Reprimanding a team member is no fun for anyone. However, having the right perspective, and approaching the “reprimand” with optimism that the employee will respond positively can make the interaction more pleasant and more productive. I learned long ago that if you want to change someone’s behavior you need to change his/her thinking, and changing the employee’s thinking means that you act immediately to address the issue, you behave calmly and professionally, you are specific about exactly what the problem is, and you don’t sugarcoat the message, thereby diminishing the impact of the conversation.
During the session, it’s also important that you listen to the team member’s perspective about the offense and understand the circumstances around it. There may be personal issues that are affecting his job performance, and in those instances, offering support and being flexible may lead to a better outcome than delivering ultimatums.
Finally, you need to clearly state what is expected of the team member, why it’s important to the team and the organization, and how all employees are held to the identical standard. Then get a commitment from the employee to adhere to those standards. Without that commitment, your next move becomes a formality.
An employee is getting to know her new coworkers when the topic of her last job comes up.
“Why did you leave that job?” asked one coworker.
“It was something my boss said,” she replied.
“What did he say?” the coworker quizzed.