What if our employees could tell with absolute certainty the full scope of our evaluation of their performance, professionalism and long-term potential? Let’s call it the “Leadership lie detector.” Would our conversations with our direct reports take on a different tone? Like the next person, I am very impacted by the look and sound of disappointment in an employee’s voice and eyes when I tell him the truth about my evaluation of his current career trajectory. It feels pretty crappy to hurt someone’s feelings. What’s the alternative? Lie, pretend or stall?
Too often, we, the leaders, employ these ineffective strategies. Why? Those conversations are not easy and are sometimes unpleasant. Frustrated by this notion, I asked my mentor, my wife Beverly, who has had a twenty year career as a senior HR executive for advice. In her career, she has had to deliver some really bad news to individuals and large groups of employees. She said that you have to step into those difficult conversations and be direct and compassionate. I immediately had this vision of a very competent nurse giving a needle injection. While it stings for a moment, the speed, precision and compassion in which it is delivered is appreciated. Just like a patient who needs the medicine being delivered by an injection, our employees need the truth. They deserve to know our evaluation of their current performance and our view about their long term potential. Compassionate truth is really the only answer. With the truth we give our employees an opportunity to correct the their performance. Remember that performance and potential are not fixed. With feedback, encouragement and a good plan, anybody can maximize their potential. People can only fix what they know about.