Makers of Chemicals and Aggregates for the Concrete Industry
Specializes in products that protect surfaces and structures from moisture, water and other undesired substances
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Our associate profile this month is of Mark Hollander, Waterproofing Specialist for the North Georgia market. Mark has been selling waterproofing products since 1990 and is well known in the industry. He was on the board of the Waterproofing Contractors Association and is a past president. Mark was born in Durham, NC where he graduated from Northern Durham High School. After high school he continued his education at Mt. Olive College. He has three children; John Michael (27), Ellen Elise (24), and Robert Alan (21). In his spare time he enjoys fishing, hiking, backpacking, reading, and spending time at the family cabin in the North Carolina Mountains. He also is restoring his 1986 Nissan 300ZX. Mark has been a great addition to our team as there aren’t many people in the industry with his depth of experience and contacts.
The management article this month is titled, “Be Specific When Giving Constructive Criticism.” Giving any criticism is hard but by providing specifics most people will accept it. Give this a read if you have this challenge.
August’s Management Article
Be specific when giving constructive criticism
By Gerry Valentine
Here’s an open secret of leadership — most leaders hate having performance improvement conversations with their employees. It’s never fun telling someone that their job performance isn’t up to par, and, in the most extreme cases, that they’re in danger of losing their job.
But providing corrective feedback is a fundamental part of how leaders deliver value to their organizations — it allows struggling employees to improve, saves recruiting and training costs, minimizes work disruption, preserves company morale and protects the business.
The good news is that constructive feedback conversations don’t need to be excruciating. Here’s a seven-step framework to have conversations that actually improve performance, and that set both the employee and the company up for success.
1. Start with the right assumption and intention.
The most important part of any performance improvement conversation is to start with the assumption that the employee is capable of improvement and with the intention of helping them improve. Avoid presenting the conversation as a reprimand. Instead, focus on the improvement needed. Clearly communicate job expectations, where those expectations are not being met and the corrective steps the employee needs to take.
2. Always include examples and specifics.
To be maximally effective, the conversation needs to include specific examples. Sometimes, in the heat of frustration, a leader will default to generalities like, “your budgets are always wrong,” or worse yet, “your work is sloppy.” But speaking in generalities creates ambiguity and decreases the likelihood of success.
The best performance improvement conversations include at least one instance where you observed sub-par performance and why it was relevant, what needs to change in order to meet expectations and a timeline for improvement.
For example: “In the past, the quarterly expense forecasts for your department have not been accurate. The forecast you gave last quarter was off by more than 25%. This is a problem because inaccuracies in your forecast impact the company’s overall earnings report. Going forward you need to provide numbers that are accurate to within 2%. This needs to be corrected on your next forecast.”
3. Confirm mutual understanding.
Always confirm that the employee understands your expectations. A good practice is to have the employee repeat back to you what they understand the expectation to be. Listen carefully for complete accuracy and make further corrections if necessary.
Remember, you are confirming understanding but not necessarily agreement with the expectation. Sometimes employees become defensive — they may challenge the expectation or attempt to deflect by criticizing others. It’s critical that you immediately bring the conversation back to the specific expectation, using a statement like: “Our purpose here is to talk about your performance and to make sure you understand my expectation. Do you understand that I’m looking for you to … ?”
4. Listen for legitimate blockers and take action if needed.
Separate from deflections, there are sometimes instances of legitimate blockers — issues beyond the employee’s control that prevent him or her from meeting the expectation. It’s important that leaders listen for legitimate blockers and take any necessary action. After confirming understanding of the expectations, a leader might ask a question like: “Is there anything preventing you from meeting the expectations I’ve outlined?”
The distinction between a deflection and a legitimate blocker can be subtle, and it might also be job specific. In the aforementioned budget forecast example, an employee might say that he or she lacks sufficient financial knowledge to produce an accurate forecast. For a recently promoted junior employee, you might decide to invest in training. However, for a more senior individual, gaining the required knowledge might be the employee’s responsibility.
5. Establish follow-up and communicate consequences.
The performance improvement conversation should always include how you intend to follow up on progress. For example, you might meet with the employee on a regular basis, such as weekly or monthly. It’s also important to include consequences of failing to meet the expectations. In the most serious cases, the consequence might be termination. Clarity on consequences ensures that there’s a common understanding of seriousness.
6. Act before it’s too late and create a partnership.
One of the biggest reasons performance improvement fails is because leaders wait too long to have tough conversations. Hesitation just creates more frustration, and it may even cause the employee’s reputation in the company to become irreparably damaged.
The best performance improvement conversations also create a sense of partnership between the leader and the employee — one where the leader enforces accountability but is also available to provide support and guidance. Ideally, conclude the conversation by expressing your hope that the employee will be successful and explain that you want to do everything you can to help.
7. If performance doesn’t ultimately improve, act quickly.
Sometimes, even with the best communication, support and partnership, performance doesn’t improve — that’s when the leader’s role becomes even more critical. When unaddressed, poor performers can seriously damage a company’s culture. Other employees will notice, especially ones whose work depends on the poor performer and who may have to take up the slack themselves. And if the poor performer is in a leadership position themselves, the negative effect is exponential.
Once all reasonable efforts have been made, it’s a leader’s responsibility to move forward quickly with remediation — whether that means a reassignment to a different responsibility, a demotion or a termination. Do not allow performance problems to fester. If an employee ultimately cannot meet expectations, it’s the leader’s responsibility to quickly protect the overall business.
That’s all for this month. As always, never hesitate to let me know how we can better serve you. Thank you for your business!
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