Have you ever worked for someone who seems to notice every small error you make (and points it out), but almost never says anything when you are successful? We call this leadership style “The Persecutor” and we see it a lot in both industry and parenting. We have learned by talking with Persecutors that they are trying to motivate people to improve by holding them accountable for their results, but the exact opposite actually occurs because of the way they do it. Employees become demotivated because there is no balance between positive and negative feedback, and because they feel disrespected in the process. People need both correction (what we call “Redirection") for failure and positive feedback for success. So how can you avoid persecution and create the results that you need? We suggest that you use the following redirection guidelines when correcting performance.
- Remain calm. Emotions such as frustration and anger only make us less effective in thinking and communicating. Most of the time those emotions are the result of a “guess” about why the person failed. Avoid guesses and you will have much more control over your emotions.
- Conduct the session in private. One of your primary objectives is to reduce defensiveness so that you can get the employee to help you examine the reason(s) behind the failure and develop a “fix” for the future. Calling someone out in public almost always leads to defensiveness, so make every effort to find a private location for this discussion.
- Eliminate interruptions and distractions. Gaining the full attention of the employee is critical for an effective conversation. Make sure that you control as many distractions as possible and you will get much better attention from your employee.
- Point out positive aspects of performance first, followed by identification of the inadequate performance. Typically the employee will have had some success that you want to continue in the future. Positive feedback helps to strengthen those behaviors, so take this opportunity to create repeated success with positive feedback. Then point out the specific result, action, lack of action, etc. that you have identified as failure. Avoid ambiguous terms such as bad attitude, unmotivated, etc.
- Follow the SAFE* approach to giving feedback.
- Step Up: When you see failure, say something, but say it with respect. If you don’t step up, then the things that have led to this failure will continue to create failure in the future and if you say it the wrong way (disrespectfully) you will create defensiveness and less desire for improvement going forward.
- Ask: Learn the real reason for the failure. Was it motivation, ability, pressure, lack of support, etc? Evaluate the total context that led to the failure before you come up with a plan for improvement.
- Find a Fix: Find a fix for the real reason for the failure. Work with the employee to determine a way to create success in the future. Don’t create the plan yourself, but rather create it in concert with the employee when possible. This brings more ownership and more motivation for improvement.
- Ensure the Fix: Keep an eye on improvement and give feedback accordingly. If the “fix” works and you observe success, then give positive feedback to strengthen performance. If you observe failure, then work your way through the SAFE approach again until you find the real reason for failure and the right fix going forward.