You know that employee who means well but is so ill-suited to her responsibilities that her coworkers have to pick up the slack? Or the knowledgeable guy who looked great on paper before you hired him but who is now disrupting the workplace with his logorrhea?
Let’s face it—sometimes we make mistakes. We get one impression of a candidate during the hiring process and later discover he or she is a poor fit for our organization’s culture. Maybe we inherit a bad apple from a predecessor. Whatever the reason, as managers we occasionally encounter a problem employee whose behavior compromises the effectiveness of the team or even the larger organization.
But you’re a nice person—how do you tell these folks they’re not measuring up to your expectations, or even more awkward, that some personal idiosyncrasy is irritating the rest of the staff?
Perhaps the offense isn’t egregious enough to merit termination, requiring tact given that you and your team will need to continue collaborating with this individual.
So what do you do? Candor, Inc. cofounder and CEO Kim Scott has two words for you: radical candor. Forget the spoonful of sugar—pour that medicine right down their gullet. Be brave enough to give employees candid feedback about their performance.
In Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity—currently the #1 Best Seller in Workplace Culture at Amazon—Scott presents a management philosophy based on two counterbalancing approaches: you need to care personally while simultaneously challenging directly.
Scott coins the term obnoxious aggression for the brutal honesty managers exhibit when they don’t care. Those are the one-in-five-psychopath CEOs we discussed in a previous article. That’s not the kind of candor we mean.
On the flip side, compassionate managers who don’t want to hurt their employee’s feelings are practicing what Scott calls ruinous empathy. That is equally destructive, not only undermining your leadership but compromising the integrity of the workplace by allowing poor workmanship to slide.
What may surprise you—when you do muster the courage to confront an employee about problematic behavior—is that withholding honest assessment of a person’s abilities and performance actually harms the employee, too. He may find himself continually fired from job after job without ever understanding why and being given the opportunity to correct his behavior.
While Scott’s advice may be old hat to veteran leaders, less-seasoned managers can benefit from her general rules of thumb: practice humility, offer immediate feedback and deliver criticism in private.
The last thing you want to do is shame an employee. That will only serve to trigger her defense mechanisms, and she won’t be able to absorb your instruction.
Instead, take more of a mentorship approach. Maybe you’ve made similar missteps in your past—share an example of where you went awry and how you appreciated when someone took you to task for your shortcomings. Let the employee know you’re on her side and you want to come up with a solution together, whether it involves reconfiguring the job description to focus on strengths and offset weaknesses or introducing some ground rules to help curb the problematic behavior.
However you choose to approach situations like this, remember to practice emotional intelligence along with radical candor, and you’ll be ahead of most bosses when it comes to giving honest but sensitive feedback.