Right to Know

Few things are sadder.

Not long ago a friend of mine was commiserating about some nasty work she’s had to do at her company. Okay, she was crying in her beer but at its heart, that’s commiserating.

Its no secret HR has its share of dirty business – seems like we become everyone’s BFF when there’s some unpleasant affair to be handled – but this is among the worst.

My friend just let a number of people go due to “performance” that nebulous, euphemistic label we often toss around too lightly. Yes, I agree, people need to perform: public, private or NGO, people have got to put forth effort consistently over time to get results, and yes, results are what count, not effort.

Yet my friend wasn’t broken up because of the releases per se. She was bothered because the recipients of the news didn’t know they weren’t performing.

What? you ask. How is that so?

Easy. Managers don’t manage and their culture doesn’t compel them to.

Let’s be clear: if there is one thing you could do today to increase the overall performance in your organization and to drive collaboration and participation even higher, it would be to start practicing candor. Having read Ed Catmull’s latest book (not a “must-read” by the way but with some nuggets) I have reaffirmed my love of candor.

Yes, I’ve always been a fan of the truth and earlier blogs of mine have acknowledged that in my early days I used this indiscriminately needlessly hurting people with it. Thank heavens I’ve grown without outgrowing candor. We need it.

There is nothing more heart-wrenching than to watch someone who’s been oblivious to the social signs – missing all the signals that they weren’t performing – have to hear from a stranger (née HR) that they’re not successful. Why don’t we share this assessment real-time when people can do something about it? Why don’t we tell people what they have a right to know?

Many times I’ve heard managers exclaim that they did tell people, or, alternatively, that they didn’t want to hurt their feelings. Or even worse, that they didn’t know how to tell them. Let’s deconstruct this bullshit.

Unless you utter the words “your performance is unacceptable” you have not actually told low performers they’re in trouble. But here’s the thing: you owe them that. They have a right to know that they’re not delivering what they should. Not hurt their feelings? Puh-leeze… Do you think its better to have an HR geek let them go down the line so you could save some tertiary feelings? And oh yes – you don’t know how to coach them? Well, go get some coaching from HR: that’s what they do!

I have passion over this topic because it is so damaging to watch people walk out the door who might have been turned around had they been apprised early enough about their performance needs. Get serious and get your job done. This is a failing of culture, management and HR.

Tell people where they stand with empathy and candor. They have a right to know.

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