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…Is (mostly) all about messaging, right?

I ask because this morning, whilst combing the internet for my daily dose of HR knowledge I came across the following nugget of wisdom from Kris Dunn here:

Some of you that are seasoned HR Pros know the cautionary tale when it comes to employee surveys. Rely on them too much or send the wrong signals to your workforce related to how they can be used, and they can become witch hunts toward capable managers with difficult workgroups.

…I’ve run across the above challenge multiple times over the years, but still haven’t worked out one tried and true method to sort through the noise and figure out if I’m dealing with (i) a nightmare Manager that’s destroying morale and killing productivity or (ii) a group of challenging employees bucking against a leader intent on raising the water level through rigorous performance management.

One of the most challenging things about dealing with employee relations conflicts in general is the fact that both sides have their own perceptions of what happened… and part of both sides is usually (on some level) right. As such, sorting through that grey area and adjudicating such matters in a way that resolves the conflict(s) and leaves all parties feeling they were treated fairly requires a comprehensive gathering of facts and the ability to step back and look at everything one learns objectively.

With that said, if all the employees on a leader’s team are saying (in the context of an engagement survey or otherwise) “This person is a terrible manager”, by what metric do we determine if they’re right? One way of answering this question might be to dig deeper into the nature of said feedback and assess its merit; in the case cited by Kris Dunn in the beginning of this piece, the employer (The FBI) is doing just that:

James L. Turgal Jr., assistant director of the agency’s human resources division, said FBI executives rely on other information and not exclusively on the surveys when promoting employees.

“This is just one data point,” he said. “It’s a great assessment tool. But it’s not the ultimate tool.”

…Which brings me back to my original comment about effective performance management being mostly about messaging: There are a lot of variables that play into determining who is to blame for conflicts between a leader and employees. But whenever I get a lot of complaints about a Manager one thing I do know is that – regardless of if said complaints turn out to have any merit – the manager has a communications problem with his or her team. I say this because ultimately most everyone can take constructive feedback (and even really bad news) if it is 1. For instance, studies have shown that the frequency at which Doctors are sued for malpractice has much more to do with how they talk to their patients than their patient’s actual treatment outcomes.delivered in a palatable way. 1 What they cannot tolerate, however, is being talked down to or otherwise made to feel diminished for their shortcomings. And a lot of times when Managers struggle to engage (and ultimate lose credibility with) their teams this is exactly the problem; instead of framing their expectations in a way that engages and empowers their employees, they deliver them in a way that tears their people down.

^This doesn’t mean they are bad or mean people, by the way – it’s just that delivering candid feedback is a learned skill. If one is not careful, t’s easy to water feedback down so much that the message gets lost… or conversely to go the other way and leave the recipient feeling attacked as opposed to coached.

…I have the day off and want to enjoy the weather today, and so I will close this one out by asking that you share your thoughts on performance management best practices in the comments section below.