Don't duck the tough employee talk

Most companies are not paying out big bonuses this year, if they're paying anything at all.

Don't duck the tough employee talk

Most companies are not paying out big bonuses this year, if they're paying anything at all. Exacerbating the situation is that many employees saw their salaries frozen during 2009. They're anxious, to say the least.

So how do managers throughout the company have conversations with employees as the year comes to a close?

Here are some thoughts:

First, don't duck the discussions. Employee anxiety only gets worse in the absence of credible information. You and your people must fill the void. No discussion is the worst possible scenario.

Second, the primary concern of many employees today is job security – way ahead of a bonus payment. Use this time of year to have a candid conversation about the company's performance, its strategy for 2010, and the outlook. Perhaps your commentary can be supported by insights in industry or financial analyst reports. An intelligent, credible conversation will go a long way in making employees feel engaged and more secure. They're not stupid; they know the economy is lousy. They want to be respected and treated like adults.

Third, this is also a time to share some constructive feedback on individual performance. Be sure your people know they're making important contributions to the business. Don't underestimate psychic reward. Ensure your people know they're valued. And, as appropriate, constructively point out one or two areas in which you want to collaborate to strengthen their performance in 2010.

Fourth, let that conversation segue into career growth opportunities. The economy won't stay bad forever. Discuss the long-term growth opportunities your people have. Besides being a strong, substantive conversation, it also delivers the message that you value the person and that you want them in the company for a long time.

Finally, if the person hasn't received a raise for some time, tackle the issue head-on. Let them know the plan and, if there isn't one, let them know the plan is fluid based on the economy. However you choose to address it, just be sure to address it. It's the 800-pound gorilla in the room. Don't ignore it.

The bottom line: Be honest, constructive, and empathetic. It will be appreciated.

Far too many executives have a difficult time having what they consider to be “tough” conversations. These people are conflict-averse. They need training. Tackle it fast. This aversion to challenging conversations is problematic all year long, so the sooner you can enhance people's skills and comfort levels in this regard, the better for everyone.

Bob Feldman is cofounder and principal of PulsePoint Group, a communications management consulting firm. He can be reached at Bob's monthly column focuses on management of the corporate communications function.

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